All employees should pay attention to the CUPE strike

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

At its core, the CUPE strike is about basic things all employees care about. Most of us care about how much money we make, if there is a raise in our future and our working conditions. This strike will be marked by CUPE’s ask for an 11.7% wage increase for its membership across the board.

I am no labour expert, but with 11 years of experience practicing employment law exclusively, I feel like I have broad insight into the common hardships employees face in this province.

 

At its core, the CUPE strike is about basic things all employees care about. Most of us care about how much money we make, if there is a raise in our future and our working conditions. This strike will be marked by CUPE’s ask for an 11.7% wage increase for its membership across the board.

 

In the private sphere, we can ask employers for raises, changes to our work environment, and a plan for our future at virtually anytime during our employment. Sometimes employers will make changes based on these queries and other times they won’t. Employers have to respond and react quickly to demands from their workforce.

 

These decisions are complicated and full of nuance; usually informed by the desire to retain a particular employee, company performance and financial metrics.

 

When employees don’t get the raise they want, better hours or better perks, there lies ahead two unpalatable choices; take it and plod on or leave for a new opportunity.

 

This dynamic doesn’t exist in the unionized context at all. If you want a raise this year, you can’t ask for one. If you want better hours or perks, you can’t ask for those either. Your individual requests are rarely addressed but must be communicated to your union representative. The pent up collective interests of unionized employees are negotiated customarily only every few years in what’s called a collective bargaining process.

 

It is no wonder then that collective bargaining is fraught with tension. The stakes are so very high. We have seen the tension unfold before us with many public education labour negotiations in this province.

 

We have been focused primarily on the government’s digging in of its proverbial heel, it’s wrongful preemptive anti-strike legislation and now it’s appeal to the labour board for help.

 

But the real story is how much power employees really have. Employees really do hold all the cards.

 

With that, CUPE members should not only be questioning the motives of government but conducting a postmortem on what it’s own union did to get here. Why did round after round of negotiations fail? Was there a window of resolution that was not pursued for want of power and politics? Could the parties have resorted to binding arbitration earlier?

 

In the private sphere, these are normal questions every employer would be asking when something as catastrophic as an employee walkout happens.

 

This strike is a black mark on our provincial government. It is only a matter of time before CUPE members too will give its union a failing grade.

 

On to this week’s questions:

 

Q. My company received a reference request for a previous employee. The reference form asks a lot of detailed questions about the employee, including questions about his strengths, weaknesses and work ethic. The employee performed just adequately when he worked for us. I don’t want to overstate his talents in a reference but am worried if I am honest he may not get the job. What should I do?

 

A. If you’re comfortable and can provide helpful information to the potential employer, offer a verbal reference instead. You are right to steer clear from misrepresenting your former employee’s talents in a reference request. Consider creating a standard policy regarding references for former employees. For example you can offer a job confirmation letter that can confirm position, responsibilities and seniority.

 

Q. I was terminated while pregnant but I did not tell my employer I was pregnant prior to my last day. I was offered a package that will provide me with pay only for a month and it will be hard for me to find a new job. Any advice?

 

A. If your severance package is very low, it may be worthwhile to let your employer know now that you are pregnant. Even though you did not inform your employer beforehand, the fact of your pregnancy may be a relevant factor to how long it could take you to reemploy. Another important consideration is whether or not you signed an employment agreement that speaks to your entitlements on termination. It’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer for advice prior to signing off on this package.

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

 

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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