Collective bargaining begins when one of the parties, either the union or the employer, gives notice to the other that they wish to renew or modify an expiring collective agreement. In Ontario’s public education sector, notice to bargain and the overall bargaining process is contained in the legal framework of the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act (the “SBCBA”) and the Labour Relations Act (the “LRA”). While most of the bargaining units of OSSTF/FEESO fall within the SBCBA, members of the university sector or transportation consortia do not and are guided only by the LRA.
Under the SBCBA, we see the introduction of a concept of central and local bargaining tables. Notice to bargain may be given by either of the parties at the central table. This notice can only be given within 90 days of the date when an agreement is set to expire. The SBCBA also allows for the government to extend that period to up to 180 days.
For the bargaining teams bound by the SBCBA, the bargaining process includes, as a first order of business after notice has been given, a meeting to determine the scope of items that will be bargained centrally. For those items which are not deemed to fall within the scope of central bargaining, they automatically become available for bargaining teams at the local level.
The topic of a central / local split is a complex part of bargaining under the SBCBA that can lead, and has led, to disputes between the central parties which have needed to be resolved by the Ontario Labour Relations Board. After matters of scope have been determined, however, bargaining may begin.
Whether or not your bargaining unit falls within the authority of the SBCBA, after notice of a desire to bargain has been given by either party, the parties are obliged to meet, bargain in good faith, and make every reasonable effort to come to a collective agreement.
In the next issue: What is central and local bargaining?