March 2010

North of 49°
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Ontario IBEW Renews ‘Win-Win' Bargaining Partnership

IBEW construction members and signatory contractors throughout Ontario overwhelmingly voted for the renewal of a joint labour-management "no-strike" pact this winter, helping to lay the groundwork for another three years of labour peace in the province.

"We've gone 20 years without a strike or lockout," said IBEW Construction Council of Ontario Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Pender. "And we want to keep it that way."

More than 80 percent of construction members who mailed in their ballot voted "yes" on the question of whether to continue the "joint proposal"—an agreement between the Ontario IBEW Construction Council and the Electrical Contractors Association to waive strikes and lockouts while both sides negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

Since 1978, all building trades contracts in Ontario are required by law to be negotiated on a province-wide basis. By centralizing bargaining, the Ontario government hoped to streamline labour negotiations, but the ruling ended up increasing the number of strikes by effectively giving individual locals the power to take out every other construction trade on strike, resulting in poisoned labour-management relations and declining union market share.

First District International Representative Jerry Wilson, who was business manager of Kitchener Local 804 in the ‘80s, remembers going out on strike at least four times during his tenure in office—strikes he didn't call. "We would have never gone out, except that all the locals had to bargain together," he said.

The IBEW and its signatory contractors realized that something had to change. Inspired by the philosophy of "win-win" bargaining, both parties created the joint proposal in 1992.

"We realized that we had to work together to jointly expand our industry," Pender said.

Developed in part by the late former Cornell University labor relations professor Bernard Flaherty, win-win or partnership bargaining is premised on the idea that successful collective bargaining requires labour and management to form mutually beneficial partnerships, avoiding aggressive negotiating tactics.

Under the agreement, every three years—the length of a provincial contract—the IBEW and the contractors' association polls its members on extending the agreement for another term. If ratified, both sides agree to waive on-the-job actions for the life of the agreement.

"It's great for us and great for the industry," Wilson said. "It beats having pointless strikes."

For Pender, the agreement has provided nearly two decades of labour stability in union construction, leading to steady growth of the IBEW throughout Ontario and fair compensation for its members.

The provincial-wide agreement, which covers 13 locals, deals with basic wage and benefits compensation. It also establishes an ongoing joint labour-management mediation board—chaired by a neutral party—that deals with grievances and other issues.

Pender congratulated IBEW members who took the time to cast their ballot and sustain this concept of bargaining.

To see the results from negotiations, go to