Bargaining Update: Progress is being made, but we still need your support.

March 7th 2017

CUPE 1281 represents CUPE 3913 Grievance Coordinator Manuel Marques and all staff covered by the collective agreement with the employer, CUPE 3913. We are currently in contract negotiations with CUPE 3913 regarding that collective agreement. 

During negotiations the 3913 Executive was acting as a bad employer. Now progress is being made, but the 3913 Executive continue to threaten to lockout Manuel  and continue to be very reluctant to cooperate in the negotiation process.

Manuel and CUPE 1281 need support from CUPE 3913 members and allies. We are protecting job security, good benefits, and fair processes for everyone. Please hold the CUPE 3913 Executive accountable.

Tell them continuing to negotiate and bargain fairly is the right thing to do, and they should cease engaging in lockouts.

During negotiations the 3913 Executive has been acting as a bad employer:

Demanding major concessions:
CUPE 3913 began negotiations by proposing over 200 changes to the collective agreement. That is a lot of contract changes to ask from staff and their union. When an employer makes that many proposals they usually understand that they will need to devote significant time to negotiating those changes.  

Many of the changes the CUPE 3913 Executive proposed were concessions. Concessions are changes to the collective agreement that would reduce the quality of working conditions for staff, or the rights they have through their union. Concessions are not something that working people agree to easily, and CUPE National has a policy against accepting concessions. It is generally understood that when one union accepts concessions, it makes it easier for employers elsewhere to insist on concessions, and there is a domino effect that lowers standards for all workers, unionized and non-unionized alike.

The concessions that CUPE 3913 Executive demanded from their staff included reducing job security and cutting benefits:

Reduced job security: Several of the 3913 Executive’s demands combined to deeply undermine job security and casualize employment in the workplace. In negotiations recently, we have made some progress in reaching provisional agreement on the prioritization of permanent over term contract and casual jobs, But, there are still proposals on the table that allow for contracting out, and undermine seniority rights, job quality and protections against due process in harassment grievances. These changes include:

  • Refusal to stipulate hours associated with new positions the employer has proposed.
  • Proposing job descriptions that include a high level of management scrutiny & build in a lack of employee trust.
  • Eliminating protections that prevent arbitrary changes to these bargaining unit positions, including layoffs.
  • Eliminating protections that prevent workers from being displaced because of technological change.
  • Setting the performance evaluations up as punitive processes.
  • Disallowing internal transfers to vacant positions based on seniority, while setting vague standards for what it means to be qualified for a job.
  • Insisting on removing all references to the CUPE 1281 Staff Representative and Shop Steward from the collective agreement.

It has taken a lot of work to reduce the list of concessions demanded by the Employer around job security to those listed above.

Cuts to Benefits: The 3913 Executive has attempted to diminish  access to leaves, sick days and severance pay.

Like all CUPE locals, CUPE 1281 says no to concessions. But, especially given that most of our employers are not-for-profit and social justice organizations whose goals we share as working people, we are always very willing to work with employers if they see issues with the Collective Agreement or with our relationship. Doing that work takes time and good will. It takes time to talk through issues, so we can develop understanding and trust, and arrive at mutually agreeable solutions.

Limiting bargaining time and effective bargaining processes:
Unfortunately, from early on the CUPE 3913 executive refused to devote the necessary time for face-to-face bargaining, and made no effort to build good-will and trust.

Despite proposing a major overhaul of the collective agreement, and requesting many significant concessions, the CUPE 3913 Executive began bargaining by insisting that they would only meet to discuss the proposed changes for two hours at a time.

Such short bargaining meetings deviates significantly from standard practice when negotiating collective agreements, and makes it very difficult to come to agreements, especially when so much is on the table. In addition, Manuel’s union representative and chief negotiator are based in Toronto and have had to be commuting to Guelph, an hour each way, in order to attend these bargaining sessions.

CUPE 1281 is a small union, much less resourced than the employer. The work-time of the CUPE 1281 Staff Representative is stretched thin between the many workplaces we represent. Commuting two hours for a two hour meeting would be a significant drain on precious staff resources that our many members rely on to meet their servicing needs.

When we requested standard full-day bargaining sessions, CUPE 3913 would only agree to three hour bargaining sessions. In order to be cooperative, and to get bargaining started, we agreed.

Once we agreed to three hour bargaining sessions, they continued to show little respect for our time. They left one bargaining session halfway through, after just 1.5hrs. Then they last-minute cancelled another bargaining session, and gave no alternative date to meet.

Also difficult for CUPE 1281 was CUPE 3913 Executives’ insistence that much of the bargaining take place over email. This consisted of long written rationales for each side’s position on different proposed changes. This was not effective. Email exchanges are prone to misunderstanding and are not conducive to building trust. They are also much less efficient than conversations. Given how much email bargaining undermined the goals of bargaining, and how much of a drain on staff time it was, this was not a process we could agree to.  

CUPE 3913 gave some indication that they insisted on bargaining in these ways because they needed to focus on their bargaining with their own employer, the University of Guelph. In response we indicated on several occasions that we were more than willing to postpone our own bargaining until a better time for CUPE 3913. We in no way wanted to undermine their own bargaining with their employer. But CUPE 3913 Executive’s refused these offers, and insisted on continuing bargaining at the same time they were bargaining with the University of Guelph.

Most of the progress to date has came from CUPE 1281 being cooperative. By the time of the lockout (we’ll get to that soon) of the 54 agreements the two sides had successfully come to, the vast majority (45) were CUPE 1281 agreeing to things the employer wanted. The remaining 9 were things the employer agreed to that we had proposed.

Because of how little time CUPE 3913 was willing to devote to negotiating, and because of their unilateral demands about how bargaining would take place, we were barely able to discuss any of the substantive issues until we entered mediation.

Mediation is when the Ministry of Labour intervenes in the bargaining process to bring the two sides together. The Ministry assigns a mediator to do this work.

Mediation was very helpful. It meant that we finally met for full days of bargaining, and we were able to make some progress.

Engaging in Lockouts:
Despite the slow but meaningful progress we were making in mediation the employer refused to continue negotiating.

They filed a ‘no board’ that would allow them to lockout Manuel (and gave Manuel the right to strike) after a deadline on February 15.

A lockout means CUPE 3913 stops paying Manuel and stops allowing him to do his work on behalf of 3913 members, in order to try and put pressure on him and CUPE 1281 to accept their concessionary demands.

On February 15, the last day of mediation before they would be allowed to lock Manuel out they refused our offer to find more dates to continue mediation. Instead, at the very end of the day they handed us a 273 page document that they said was their ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ final offer. We had an hour to accept the whole thing, or they would lock Manuel out.

It was impossible to go through the whole document in an hour to find all the changes they had made to their proposals, but it was clear that the major concessions they were demanding still remained. In addition there were many smaller changes that we still had not even been able to discuss meaningfully.

We were unable to agree in that hour, and we asked instead that we find another time to meet again and keep negotiating. But they refused, informed us that beginning at midnight Manuel would be officially locked-out, and asked him to hand over his office keys.

A lockout is an extreme measure available to employers in collective bargaining. The employer exercising their power to stop paying their workers until they agree to the employer’s demands is cruel, and deeply impacts the lives of the workers who are suddenly without a paycheque. It is not something you would expect a union to do to their staff.

The employer’s decision to lockout Manuel subjected CUPE 3913 to significant criticism from progressive groups in the Guelph community and the labour movement.

That criticism helped pressure the employer to ‘suspend’ the lockout after 7 days, and agree to two more days of mediation on March 2 and 3.

Now progress is being made:

We were glad to hear the news that CUPE 3913 reached a tentative agreement with their own employer, the University of Guelph, and we hoped this would mean they would finally be willing to devote the necessary time to our bargaining, and cease engaging in lockouts.

But unfortunately, at first mediation on March 2 and 3 looked like it was going to be a repeat of the final days of mediation before CUPE 3913 locked Manuel out.

When CUPE 3913 agreed to two more days of mediation they themselves admitted it would be hard verging on impossible for a full agreement to be reached in just two days, but still, two days was all they would give. They continued using the lockout threat, advising us that if we did not agree to their demands in those two days they would resume the lockout.

When mediation began, the employer refused to meet with our bargaining team, saying they refused to negotiate with our bargaining team chief-negotiator, Sheila, and they would meet only with Manuel.

Nonetheless, two long days of slow shuttle diplomacy between the parties (never meeting face to face) resulted in some encouraging progress, including on some of the bigger issues like preventing the casualization of work.

But again on the last day, the employer announced they were giving us another take-it-or-leave it final offer, and if we didn’t sign the lockout would resume.

Thankfully, this time we have managed to avert their ultimatum and continue negotiating. After a bit of back and forth over the weekend, we have come to agreement on a process that will allow us to keep negotiating through a mediator for the next two weeks, and CUPE 3913 will not resume Manuel’s lockout during this time.


We need your support:

We are happy this progress is being made, but we still need your support.

CUPE 3913 continues to threaten to lockout Manuel once again if an agreement is not reached by March 19, and given the pattern so far, we are worried.

You can support by informing CUPE 3913 members of what their Executive are doing, and telling the 3913 Executive:


  • Negotiating fairly with CUPE 1281 is the right thing to do.
  • Be a good employer and respect job security and quality jobs.

For questions or more ways to support you can contact