April 3, 2014

The collective bargaining process requires careful preparation and strategy, especially when dealing with issues such as wage and benefit calculations. Accurate costing can convert complex bargaining proposals into negotiable financial items. In this audio conference, a group of experts will discuss the different approaches used in costing collective agreements, and explore how consensus can be reached across the bargaining table. Topics to be discussed include:

  • Data collection: What information can union representatives reasonably request from employers to develop proposals for contract negotiation? When does refusal to provide the requested information constitute a failure to bargain in good faith? When is it justified? How should the parties take into account the demographic makeup of the workforce in arriving at a fair and accurate costing analysis?
  • Total compensation: How is total compensation calculated? What is the relevance of this figure? What have arbitrators said about total compensation? How are roll-up costs and other hidden costs factored into the calculation? Should negotiations start by agreeing to a total compensation cost that the employer is willing to pay based on revenue and production forecasts?
  • Costing wages: How are average wages calculated in a multi-tier wage structure? How do overtime and holiday work schedules affect average cost per employee per hour? What about other indirect costs associated with increases in payroll, such as WSIB assessments? Can employers unilaterally adjust overtime and holiday work schedules based on business needs? How should the parties undertake a useful comparison of wages between employees of different employers, given their different demographics?
  • Costing benefits: How should the cost of benefits be determined? How are intangible benefits, like ongoing training, health and wellness programs, child-care facilities, gym, etc., calculated? How should vacation costs be determined? In what areas are benefit costs rising? How should the parties deal with utilization rates of benefits, so as not to over or underestimate the cost of providing a benefit to employees? How should the cost of benefits be taken into account when negotiating other terms of the collective agreement, such as wage increases? How should the cost of benefits to retired, as opposed to active, employees be factored into the assessment?
  • Strategic considerations: How does the function of costing fit into a broader strategic approach to negotiations? How should negotiators factor workers’ subjective valuations of benefits into their costing strategy? What difference does it make if a financial proposal involves a current cost as opposed to a future liability, an on-the-books charge versus an off-the-book obligation?
  • Ability to pay: How should ability to pay factor into negotiations? What does an employer need to produce at the bargaining table or at arbitration to sustain a claim of inability to pay? How does the ability to pay apply in the private vs. public sector? To what extent have governments attempted, through statutory provisions, to limit arbitrator discretion by defining criteria relating to the ability to pay? How much weight have arbitrators attributed to such statutory provisions?