BARGAINING IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR – IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE

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problem solving

BARGAINING IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR
IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE

Today I read in the papers that the negotiations between the Government and the teachers unions will resume in the next few weeks. Hopefully, they will reach an agreement and the school year will commence without any interruptions to the various school programs.

I thought this would be a good time to remind both sides to restart the negotiating process by abandoning their previous approach of positional or confrontational negotiations. This approach may be okay in the private sector, where such tactics really only hurt the employer and the union themselves, but it is not acceptable in the public sector where innocent third parties really need the services and have little to no alternative to access the withdrawn services elsewhere. The Government and the unions have a responsibility to the citizens of this province to maintain these services.

In a broader sense, public sector unions must adopt a problem solving approach to bargaining. The more they withdraw services to achieve their goals the more they lose. People get frustrated and fed up with strikes and withdrawal of services.  Putting the Government in an embarrassing position will only steel the Government’s resolve not to be seen as weak and they will resort more and more on legislation to ensure services are not impacted. All of which in the long run will hurt the unions in my estimation.

Unions must recognize the legitimate needs of Government and public sector employers and work with them to find solutions that are acceptable to both sides. They must find more direct ways to pressure employers to bargain than resorting to what amounts to third party sanctions.

Needless to say unions are not the only ones that have to change their ways. In provincial negotiations such as with the teachers and civil servants, the Government must bargain as an employer and not as a legislative body. All too often the Government tries to achieve its legislative objectives on the backs of its workers. If they behaved as an employer they would be more inclined to treat the workforce with greater respect and work with unions to find solutions to their issues without resorting to draconian solutions such as legislating workers back to work or issuing edicts like zero increase in wages for years and years.

In most negotiating situations, with willing parties, once an issue has been identified the parties can work together and create solutions that are agreeable to both sides. Beginning the process with a statement like zero increase to wages is dictating a solution and is disrespectful of the bargaining process.

The unions fought hard to obtain bargaining rights and improve the working conditions of its workers. They shouldn’t waste the good work by needlessly withdrawing services and hurting the very people they serve. The Government of Ontario is blessed with some of the most committed, talented and hardworking employees who should be treated with respect at the bargaining table. If both parties approached bargaining with an open mind to finding new and creative solutions to their issues, rather than resorting to the same tired rhetoric and action, the Government would win, the unions would win, and most importantly the public would win.

Angelo Pesce, CHRP, CMC
Managing Partner
Pesce & Associates Human Resources Consultants
August 14, 2015

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