Q1 - What is a “Final Offer” or “Last Offer” vote?
At any time in a round of negotiations, an employer may ask the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development to direct a vote of the employees in the affected bargaining unit to accept or reject the employer's last offer to the union on all matters remaining in dispute between the parties.
This request can only be made once in a round of collective bargaining. Such a vote is commonly called a last-offer vote, a final offer vote or a supervised vote. If requested to do so by the employer, the minister must direct the vote.
At this time, the Ministry of Labour has not set a date for this vote but we know that it will be conducted electronically.
Q2 - Why has the University of Ottawa decided to request a vote on its “Final Offer” at this time?
When asked by PSUO-SSUO members why the University is forcing a “Final-Offer” vote during recent employer initiated town halls, its response was that “after 14 months of negotiations and reaching consensus on a large number of items, the parties have not reached agreement on the overall package.” That statement is true but does not reflect the reality of this round of negotiations.
As for the 14-month timeline, it is important to understand that the threat, and the subsequent imposition, of Bill 124 by the Ford government affected the ability of the parties to negotiate a deal since that Bill was not finalized for a full five months, leaving the parties in the dark as to the final content of the law and how it would apply.
The parties also had to deal with delays, following a joint request for the appointment of a Conciliation officer, related to her availability to meet with the parties. Also we had to cancel a meeting date due to hazardous winter weather, and now we are in the middle of a pandemic. It has been a unique round of negotiations!
In perspective, the first collective agreement took nearly two years to resolve and the first renewal nearly took the same amount of time. Considering all of this, 14 months is not such a long time knowing that your current collective agreement provisions are frozen.
Q3 - Have the University’s positions on outstanding issues changed since those positions were presented to the members at the Strike Vote meeting in October 2019?
The University said in its recent town halls that their “final offer was fair and eminently reasonable” and that “employees need stability and it is important to put this behind us.” The PSUO-SSUO and Provincial OSSTF/FEESO do not agree with this characterization.
The outstanding issues presented to the membership during the Strike Vote meeting are essentially the same ones that are in the “Final-Offer” document: significant reductions for benefits (80% reimbursement for medication rather than the current 100%), cuts to the retirement allowance, cuts to the top-up for parental leaves, and no significant progress on addressing member workload concerns related to unfilled vacant positions, to name a few.
Members voted 84% in favour of providing its bargaining team with a strong strike mandate and rejecting the University’s proposal. Since there has been no significant change to that proposal, the PSUO-SSUO bargaining team and provincial OSSTF/FEESO encourage you to vote NO on this “Final-Offer” and send a clear message to the University to respect you as dedicated and valued employees.
Q4 - Why is the PSUO-SSUO Bargaining Team and Provincial OSSTF/FEESO asking members to vote NO on the University’s “Final Offer”?
The PSUO-SSUO Bargaining Team, with the assistance of Provincial OSSTF/FEESO, has been working hard to get the best possible deal for our members, and is committed to continuing that work until that deal is achieved. This “Final Offer” is certainly not the best deal for us.
We did our research in preparation for these negotiations. More than half of the membership responded to our bargaining survey, and that valuable input from you has guided our approach to these negotiations. The “Final Offer” from the University does not meet your expressed needs for a fair settlement with this employer.
The Bargaining Team has the experience to ask the right questions to the University and highlight the important issues raised by our diverse membership in order to resolve the concerns you shared with us.
We have always been able to reach a tentative deal with the University and bring it back to you for ratification. The University has decided to circumvent this process by asking you to vote on its “Final-Offer”.
If the members accept the University’s “Final Offer”, then the negotiations end. The University’s cuts will be made permanent and this will undermine the ability of the PSUO-SSUO and OSSTF/FEESO to effectively represent you in future rounds of negotiations and avoid future concessions demanded by the University.
Q5 - Does a NO vote mean we are going on strike?
Just as with the Strike Vote in October 2019, a strong strike mandate did not mean we would go on strike. A NO Vote on the University’s “Final Offer” sends a message to the University that it is time to take your issues seriously and to negotiate a fair deal.
A NO Vote means the bargaining team can go back to the table with the University to negotiate a fair collective agreement which we will bring back to you, the members, for ratification.
The stronger the NO vote, the more pressure will be put on the University to change its positions.
Q6 - What will we lose if I vote yes on the University’s “Final Offer”?
All PSUO-SSUO members, including you, will lose the ability to improve your working conditions immediately and forever. You will be at the mercy of an employer who sees you as an expense and not as an investment. Here are just three of the many concessions that your employer wants to impose on you through this “final offer’:
• Reimbursement for prescription drugs would be reduced from 100 percent to 80 percent, with an out-of-pocket cap of $2000 per year as of January 1, 2021 and $3000 per year as of January 2022. It will be next to impossible to reverse this cut in the future!
• A significant number of vacant PSUO-SSUO positions remain and will continue to be unfilled. University of Ottawa President Jacques Frémont has stated that the University’s budget has been in a surplus position over the past two years ($62 million and $93 million respectively) largely due to the fact that these positions have remained vacant. In other words, you have all been asked, and will continue to be asked, to do more with less so that the University can continue to run a budget surplus on your back and the backs of your PSUO-SSUO colleagues.
• The Retirement Allowance will be taken away for all new hires. If we allow this to happen, it will create a division between current members and new members, and seriously undermine the strength of our Bargaining Unit.
Only three other times in the past two decades has an Ontario University asked its employees to vote for a "Final Offer". Union members at those Universities voted NO and supported their bargaining teams.
Tentative agreements, without the need to go on strike or be locked out, were quickly negotiated with these employers following negative votes. These collective agreements were better for the members and the University in question than the "Final Offers" which had been rejected.
History often tends to repeat itself. Here at the University of Ottawa, you can guarantee that history will repeat itself by voting NO!