Knowledge Sharing

Negotiating Collective Agreements In Today’s Complex Work Environment

May 16, 2024 | Leadership, Legislation


Written by Angelo Pesce, Founding Partner

The work environment is becoming more and more complex. COVID created the need to work from home, but now many organizations are trying to get staff back to the office. However, most employees want to continue working from home, and some organizations are creating hybrid plans. Arriving at solutions and agreements is bound to be difficult.

With the removal of Bill 124, which imposed a 1% cap per year on compensation increases for public employees, the public sector will be dealing with serious financial issues when negotiating wages. There are staffing shortages in the health and education sectors. The introduction of AI in the workplace is creating anxiety regarding job security. And unions are seeking wage increases to keep up with inflation and the rising costs of food and housing. For many organizations, this could be a lead-up to strikes that could last weeks.

In addition to the issues listed above, each workplace will be dealing with internal concerns, such as recruitment, retention, and employee engagement.


How to Approach Negotiations

As you begin to consider the renewal of collective agreements, how should you prepare? During my many years as a negotiator, I developed three processes that gave me the information that I needed to develop potential solutions that led to voluntary agreements. They are as follows:


Examine how your organization is performing with respect to the vision and the strategic plan, your financial situation, and the medium-term assessment of the marketplace. Ask yourself:

• Is your organization ready to handle changes?
• Are staff being developed to deal with the inevitable changes?
• What is the work culture?
• Are the staff engaged? If not, why not? If yes, what is working?


Preparation is key in successfully negotiating a collective agreement. Following are some areas to consider:

• As a mindset, think flexibility. Stay open to multiple approaches to solve issues at the table.
• Gather information on union/management issues that will likely be raised at the bargaining table, such as: compensation trends, work arrangements (i.e. hybrid), the process to keep track of output, communication between staff and managers, how to maintain team effectiveness and other issues. Also consider health and safety issues, operational issues such as scheduling, and issues raised by grievances and what was raised at union/management meetings during the life of the existing collective agreement.
• Examine the state of the company. Are there revenue issues that impact staff that should be communicated to the union. What are societal trends involving work that should be studied, such as work from home and four-day week in case it shows up at the negotiating table.
• Examine the impact of new technology and determine if it needs to be addressed at the bargaining table. Keep in mind that AI is being introduced in many workplaces at an exceptional speed. New technology impacts operations and their employees. Unions will want to know how you plan to deal with these impacts.


How you negotiate, how the union negotiating team is treated, how and what information and data is shared will determine the outcome of negotiations and whether the relationship is primarily enhanced, or negatively impacted.

Following are the areas that will impact the negotiating process:

• The opening statement should set the tone. It’s a good idea to broadly explain where the organization is at, the issues that need to be addressed, and the approach to negotiating. Suggest behavioral boundaries and commit to creating a respectful environment for each other and to the issues raised by both parties.
• Develop opening proposals you need to introduce. If data is available, introduce it to support the proposal. Accurate data is important because it generates trust and decisions are made based on facts and not on guesswork. Don’t have just one position, develop 2or 3 possible positions to be introduced later as the process calls for an amended or different approach. Flexibility is key to resolving issues without having to use “power”.
• Typically, the bargaining process goes from easy to difficult. At some point there is a need to involve a third party to assist and a mediator may be assigned to assist the parties. Preparing for mediation is crucial. Prepare positions on the issues that are likely to be unresolved. Have data to support the position.
• If mediation fails to resolve all outstanding issues, the process goes to the “power stage”. Work stoppage, whether it is a strike used by unions to force the employer to change their position towards the union or a lockout which is imposed by the employer to force the union to change their position towards the employer.
• Analyze the possibility of a work stoppage. First, analyze whether you can afford a work stoppage and if so, for how long. If the answer is not very long, then decide how to deal with those issues so that there is no stoppage. Or, if possible, develop other solutions that work.
• There is another approach to resolve the outstanding issues without a work stoppage and that is voluntary arbitration. The first step is to convince the union to agree to this process. Unions occasionally agree to arbitration when they don’t feel confident in calling a strike. When considering this choice, the main issue is that while it avoids a loss of production, the arbitration process ensures continuation of production, but the decision-making process is passed on to the arbitrator. While both sides will have considerable input in the arbitrator’s decision it will be their decision.


Negotiating in today’s environment is complex, and there is a lot at stake for your organization – financially, operationally, and for preparing for success in the future. We have recently seen negotiations that resulted in lengthy strikes. Strikes negatively impact workplaces financially and threaten the relationship between employees and the organization. The bad morale that ensues will not be resolved easily and quickly. There is much at stake. Organizations cannot afford a bad agreement and a damaged relationship.

Pesce & Associates is experienced in labour relations and collective bargaining. If you want support with upcoming collective agreement negotiations, contact Elizabeth Hill, Founding Partner, at



Pesce & Associates is a full-service Human Resources Consulting Group that provides comprehensive, strategic consulting services carefully tailored to each client’s unique needs.

16 Belgate Place, Toronto, ON M9C 3Y4


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