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The Dynamics of Union-Management Relations and Collective Bargaining

Learning Objectives

The fundamental reason for the existence of the trade union is that by it and through it, workmen are enabled to deal collectively with their employers. Trade unionism thus recognizes that the destruction of the workingman is the individual bargaining, and the salvation of the workingman is the joint, united, or collective bargaining (Mitchell, 1903).


Union and management are traditional adversaries—management tries to hold on to everything they can and unions try to get everything they can for their members. In recent years, there has been a shift towards more of a partnership. There still is a long way to go before there is anything resembling a true partnership but there have been some encouraging developments.


Many unions are realizing that striving for more and more money can, in the long run, lead to disaster. Every company has a threshold above which they are unable to pay higher labour costs. When this point is reached, the company can only adjust by increasing prices which often drives down revenue reducing the number of jobs the company is able to carry.


There is no doubt that the union-management framework is approaching a paradigm shift. Many feel that this shift is necessary in order to avoid future labour strife and to assure that Canadian companies remain competitive.

In this unit, we will discuss some issues surrounding union-management relationships and the basics of the collective bargaining process.

Learning Objectives
Upon completion of this unit, you should be able to:
Review and describe the structure of Canadian unions;
Explore the major reasons why workers join unions;
Explore conditions that indicate unionization may occur;
Explain how a union organizing campaign is carried out;
Summarize the core legal principles relating to collective bargaining;
Describe the key steps in negotiating a union contract and review common techniques to resolve disputes;
Describe how unions affect the human resource management environment; and
Explore ways to build union-management co-operation.

1. Why do employees join a union?
The text book lists a number of reasons, but consider the following observation: Sometimes employees join a union because everything is going right the wages are satisfactory, the benefits are acceptable, the working conditions excellent, and management practices are admiredbut employees may not have any guarantee that things will continue as they are. The union, therefore, presents a role in helping employees protect what they already have. A good reason not to unionize has thus been presented as a good reason to do so.


2. Can unions guarantee that wages, benefits, and working conditions will improve?
No. Everything is subject to negotiation between the employer and the union. Through the negotiation process it is possible for employees to lose some of their privileges.

3. What are management rights under a collective agreement?
Management rights (also known as residual rights) refer to the rights that management retains to manage the operation as they see fit, provided their actions are not limited by some provision of the collective agreement.

4. Why is seniority not always fair?
Seniority is an objective manner of determining which employees are most privileged in relation to promotions, overtime, vacation scheduling, etc. Seniority is an objective criterion in that no one can argue with length of service. Employers are often put at a disadvantage because the most senior employee (and thus the most privileged) may not be the most productive. Younger, high performing employees are also disadvantaged by virtue of their low seniority. However, until we can find another criterion as objective as seniority, it will continue to be used.

5. I work for a small company does one size fit all?
Most provinces allow one or two employees to form a bargaining unit. Size, therefore, has little effect on whether or not a workplace may be unionized.

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