It was a very frustrating experience to be at the bargaining table this week. It seems on the surface we could be so close, and yet we remain so far apart.
We are fully aware of course that there are other contracts coming in at the 2%/year range, which we suspect is the PSEC mandate, but almost without fail there are additional gains made by those unions. That could be added staff, targeted wage increases beyond the base rate, collective agreement language improvements or a combination of all of them. The key consistent factor is no concessions.
In other words if again you are unable to offer market wages, then what else can you give us. Our employer is tabling concessions that we will not agree with and any gains being offered beyond what we’ve tentatively agreed to are of little relative value to us and affect few members compared to what the employer would gain.
The employer increased their offer marginally to 1.65% April 1, 2012 and 1.65% April 1, 2013 which of course is far below our market wage research. We have lowered our expectations to 3.5% January 1, 2012 and 3.5% January 1, 2013 for all base pay grids and 1.75% and 1.75% for all Temporary Market Adjustment (TMA) Employees and SAs who are currently being paid above their evaluated grid level.
Why only half the wage increase for those individuals? We refer to article 25.12 of our Collective Agreement which stipulates this and is also in keeping with the notion of equal pay for work of equal value. Although they are still underpaid TMA recipients and SAs are being paid closer to the external market than coworkers in other positions so we need to address this inequity by helping others catch up.
I have requested a meeting with the employer to review the SA job description based on information submitted to the Union about expanded job duties and responsibilities. If found to be substantiated, this review in turn could lead to a job description re-write and re-evaluation.
When approached about the April 1st wage proposal, the Employer insists that the Public Sector Employers Council (PSEC) maintains that we have to have two full years of 0%’s before we can see any wage increase. We repeatedly show them that our last contract started January 1, 2010 and expired December 31, 2011 which is precisely two full years of zeros. This is one example of common sense and logic not being understood.
If we can’t get a January 1, 2012 increase then we expect to see the April 1st one being above the PSEC mandate.
Hours of Work
We exchanged proposals fifteen times trying to build flexible work hours into our agreement but in exchange for flexibility the Employer was demanding major concessions. Currently we don’t have to make up 45 minutes for statutory holidays. The employer wanted to take that away in exchange for anything more flexible that the existing 5/4 flex schedule. That would mean a concession of 540 minutes per person including the new legislated Family Day in February.
Additionally, those individuals would only be able to claim overtime after working 8.5 hours in a day as opposed to any hours outside of their regularly scheduled hours of work. That would be a huge concession!
Although their proposal had suggested possible daily hours up to 8.5, they refused to accept our proposal for slightly more…8.75, which would have seen the ability to have a four day work week. They were unable to give any rationale beyond ‘we just don’t want your members to have this’.
Instead of removing their own self-imposed concession roadblocks they, for the second time around this article, took their ball and went home…proposing to simply maintain the current language with all its restrictions. The Union will continue to apply logic and reason in trying to achieve flexible work hours. This is a big engagement driver and zero cost item to the Employer…it should be a zero-cost item for the Union as well rather than forcing us to accept concessions on your behalf.
We are close to an agreement in this area and reluctantly agreed to some of the employers terms in order to try to make it happen. This is all the more reason we expect some movement in our favour in other areas.
Vacation Starting Bonus
This is something tabled by the Employer to entice applicants from other branches of government to Head Office jobs. They could import a certain level of vacation seniority rather than starting over and would help deal with their ability to attract employees. The main areas of concern with this is that this is not reciprocal...we do not get the same treatment if going to another crown corp or ministry. Also, this is not retroactive for our members who took that vacation hit and already joined us from other ministries.
In exchange for this the employer reluctantly offered to agree to our house-keeping proposal to incorporate their policy of reimbursing some relocation expenses for temporary employees. Um, no... you already do that anyway and claimed you would continue to do it...so there is no offsetting ‘value’ to the employees for the proposal you are wanting!
Meals and Mileage
We have a tentative agreement on marginally increasing meals and mileage but it would only take effect upon ratification. This is a positive to be sure... but keep in mind that it mostly affects the few appraisers who are allowed to travel so this isn’t a huge gain, it’s just trying to keep up with the ever-rising costs of travel expenses.
The employer consistently refuses to modify the contracting out language in support of non-appraisal out-sourcing and in fact have issued veiled threats about more outsourcing if they don’t get their way! Our proposal does not restrict their management rights in any way...so this is a no-brainer.
The employer has moved back from its demands for flexible benefits, but would still like us to form a committee to talk more about introducing them in the future. The withdrawal of this concession is positive, but again it is not a positive thing in our contract...it is simply the removal of a concession.
We still have made no ground in this area, even though we have found other contracts where the employer pays for doctor’s notes.
Leave of Absence
We have tried to extend leave for serious illness or hospitalization to spouses...effectively sharing the leave provision between parents and spouses, but in exchange the employer wanted to limit the amount of leave for sick children...again a concession.
Dual Medical/Dental Coverage
We may be close to a deal here...which is positive, but affects very few of our members and in fact is a gain for excluded staff as well. It’s good to get but we need to see bigger gains affecting more members as well.
We have been met with great reluctance from the employer to not only talk about ways to improve gainsharing, but to even share some of the data used in the past year to calculate the results!
Appraiser II Accreditation
We have market proof that accredited appraisers are worth far more than the current $71 bi-weekly add to pay but the employer doesn’t seem to want to touch that.
We are frankly at an impasse. We have proposed meeting again during the week of November 19th and both parties agree that something needs to change for progress to happen.
This coming Tuesday I will be meeting with our CUPE National Rep to review our bargaining positions in light of other agreements currently being reached. Once I have done that I will be meeting with the employer, hopefully later next week for a high level discussion around the major roadblocks to see if we can move forward without instituting job action in one form or another.
I remain as always optimistic and with your solidarity, we will prevail.