CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Bargaining Blog
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Strike Mandate Votes

Common questions about Strike Votes

For some, the idea of a strike vote is scary—but strike votes are procedural and can reduce the possibility of a strike by showing a strong, unified presence at the bargaining table.

It is important for members to become informed about what’s at stake in the strike vote process and to be empowered before the vote.  Misinformation about the strike vote process, our bargaining proposals and what the Employer has on the table can be devastating not only to our own contract, but to contracts across the sector.

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What is a strike vote?

A strike vote occurs when the bargaining team calls upon its members to give them a “strike mandate.”  (That is, the membership gives permission to the Bargaining Team to call for labour disruption in the event that negotiations break down.)  It is a vote of the membership conducted by secret ballot and called at a membership meeting.  Members are informed in advance of the time and place of the meeting and the vote.  At the meeting, members will hear about what the Employer is demanding in terms of concessions (i.e., losses of already existing collective agreement rights) and the demands of the Union that the Employer is refusing to grant.

Voting occurs on at least two consecutive days and is conducted by secret ballot.  On the ballot, members are asked whether they are in favour of the negotiating committee taking strike action if negotiations break down.  A strong strike mandate allows the Union’s Bargaining Team to return to the table in a stronger position.

Does a successful strike vote mean that we will be going on strike?

Not necessarily.  As our own local history demonstrates through our Unit 2 bargaining of 2008, a strong strike vote can avert a strike.  Often, Employers will not put everything on the table until the Union holds a strike vote, and most contract negotiations are resolved following a strong strike vote.  Because the primary strength of workers lies in their ability to withdraw or disrupt their labour (as in a strike), the strike vote is a common and important step in the negotiation process set out by the Labour Relations Act.

Why do we need a strong strike vote?

A strong strike mandate demonstrates the membership’s support for their elected bargaining team and collectively determined bargaining priorities and proposals.  Collectively, we have determined priorities and proposals through months of consultations and through voting at several general membership meetings, including our Annual General Meeting this past April.

A weak strike vote usually results in concessions to the contract through erosions of benefits, job security, wages and other protections.  Substantive improvements to the contract (even to bring the contract up to “industry standards” or to restore protections that were lost in previous rounds) are very difficult to obtain without a strong strike mandate.  Moreover, our gains and losses at the table impact the bargaining climate and standards throughout the entire sector.  A weak strike mandate and contract at McMaster can result in concessions for other TAs and RAs across the province.  The stronger the mandate, the better the possibility of a strong negotiated collective agreement.

When and where will the vote take place?

This round, we will hold the vote over three blocks of time.  We hope that this will allow the most members to participate in the vote (e.g., members leaving on fieldwork in the fall, incoming members).   This is a difficult bargaining round: if you require more information, please feel free to refer questions to the bargaining team via email to:

August 19th, 2009: GMM 5-7 P.M. in MDCL 3023
Wentworth Lounge; voting following the GMM to 10 P.M.

August 20th, 2009: 10:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Mills Library Lobby, Thodes Library Lobby;

September 2nd, 2009: GMM 5-7 P.M.
Location TBA; voting following the GMM to 10 P.M.

September 3rd, 2009: 10:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Mills Library Lobby, Thodes Library Lobby;

September 22nd, 2009: GMM 5-7P.M.
Location TBA; voting following the GMM to 10 P.M.

September 23rd, 2009: 10:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Mills Library Lobby, Thodes Library Lobby;

Voting will be conducted by secret ballot and ballots will not be counted until all voting concludes on September 23rd.  Scrutineers will be elected at the August 19th General Membership Meeting.

Why vote Yes?

  1. Because Employers do not put their final offers on the table until the Union gets a strike vote. Because the primary strength of workers lies in their ability to withdraw or disrupt their labour (as in a strike), the strike vote is a common and important step in the negotiation process.  A weak or divided vote draws out the process and can often lead to a strike or lockout situation because the Employer has no incentive to negotiate.  As our own local history demonstrates through our Unit 2 bargaining of 2008, a strong strike vote can avert a strike.  Most contract negotiations are resolved following a strong strike vote.
  2. Because a strong YES vote shows strong support for the membership’s priorities.  Our priorities and proposals have been determined by a lengthy, democratic consultation and ratification process.  Your elected bargaining team is working hard at the table to represent your needs and concerns.  A YES vote shows your support for our collectively determined priorities and a commitment to a good-faith negotiation process.
  3. Because our contracts are about quality of education and pedagogical integrity. Did you know that limitations on tutorial and lab sizes are found in our contracts and proposals?  The union has tabled language that limits tutorial size and makes our teaching load more manageable.  This kind of language already exists in other contracts within the Local (i.e., Sessional Faculty, Postdoctoral Fellows.)  Better language on our working conditions translates into a better learning environment for our students.  Working conditions are learning conditions!
  4. Because our contracts are about accessibility. The Board of Governors recently approved a round of tuition increases that range from 4 to 8% for all students at McMaster.  This means that international student TAs will be out of pocket an additional $753 and domestic graduate TAs will be an additional $411 out of pocket in the fall.  Also, the Employer has tabled a monetary package that makes concessions to our benefits funds, making it impossible for the Union to maintain the same level of vision, UHIP and childcare coverage for members.  The union has tabled language to prevent a loss in take-home funds and a reduction in benefits.  Higher education is for everyone: help to make it possible in our contract.
  5. Because our contract determines collective rights.  The gains and concessions made to our contract directly impact the over 2500 graduate and undergraduate TAs and RAs in lieu of TAs at McMaster and their families.  Moreover, our gains and losses impact TA and RAs at other universities, because the outcome of our negotiations determines the bargaining conditions across the province. Our negotiations are not about individualistic gains: they seek to improve working conditions for everyone.

 It’s up to you to stay informed and stay involved! 

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2 Responses to “Strike Mandate Votes”

  1. I have a concern regarding the interchangeable usage of “strike mandate vote” and “strike vote”:

    It is, I think, not unreasonable to suppose that a “yes” vote to a “strike mandate vote” == a “yes” to a “strike vote” == a “yes” to strike (i.e., a vote to go on strike post haste). This is simply because (a) the first two terms are used interchageably on this blog and on the pamphlets distributed (and perhaps in all unionist jargon?), even though, (b) in the language of the ordinary person, the latter two phrases are also interchangeable (i.e., that a majority vote of “yes” to a “strike vote” means that we will ipso fact be going on strike).

    Being an ordinary person, this latter interpretation of the phrase “strike vote” seems eminently reasonable, even if I have, personally, read enough of the literature to clarify the particular way it is being used here.

    Is it not a concern, however, that many people might not read the relevant material and will vote under false or misleading pretenses (and think that an overall “yes” vote means a 100% chance of striking versus the actual, statistically small likelihood of <10% or so)?

    • Hi Josh,

      Thanks for your comment — you raise important points. There is an important difference between a “strike mandate vote” and a “strike vote” that is often not fully understood by union members and the university community. And, indeed, they are often used somewhat intercgangeably by union members, sometime erroniously, which adds to the confusion.

      There is only one required vote under the Ontario Labour Relations Act — whether it is called a strike vote or a strike mandate vote by union members and officers generally depends on the context. Often, when two parties (the union and the employer) have a very established relationship, having s atrike mandate is somewhat less necessary in terms of moving the talks forward at the table. In these cases, often the parties bargain for months, and then at some point there is a distinct breakdown in talks, and the union begins to feel it may be necessary to strike in order to meet the needs of their membership. In this case, union members are informed about what is being offered by the employer, and they vote whether to give the union’s bargaining team the mandate to call a strike, with the knowledge and expectation that a strike is likely and would occur quickly. Generally, if this mandate is given, the employer either returns to the table or a strike begins. This is what should be accurately refered to as a strike vote, but, to be clear, it is the same legal process required by the Act as what should be accurately called strike mandate vote.

      A strike mandate vote, as we have been holding since later August and which will conclude on September 23, is (again) the same legal vote as the strike vote, but it has a very different meaning and purpose. Here, the purpose is to give the union a tool to use to actually have the employer BEGIN serious bargaining. In our case, we have only met 7 times since June, and we have seen some very good progress at the table, but very little monetary movement by the employer (and the union is waiting to move more until we see more movement from the employer). The strike mandate vote DOES give the union’s bargaining team the power to call a strike is necessary AT SOME POINT WELL INTO THE FUTURE, but the mandate is given in the absense of a strike deadline or any crisis in negotiations. In this case, as time goes on, the union will continue to negotiate for many weeks and even months prior to calling a strike, and will have ongoing consultations with the members, thought formal meetings and also informal discussions every day, to determine whether we are making enough progress at the table.

      You’re very right that many members likely either think that a strike mandate vote means that a strike will occur, while others may not understand that, if the employer ceased to bargaining from this point forward and the union felt there was no other option, a mandate vote is all that is legally required (if a strike deadline has also been set, which in our case hasn’t occurred) in order to give the union’s bargaining team a mandate to call a strike. We are always trying to ensure that members understand both of these points, and the ballot question is clear, I hope, about the meaning of the vote. It is NOT a vote to go on strike — indeed, there is not a strike deadline, there is not a crisis in bargaining, there has not been a final offer made by the employer. But it does give the union the mandate to, at some point in the future if all of the above were to occur, to call a strike if necessary to meet the demands that our members have set us to the table to negotiate into our new contract.

      The good news is that, assuming members vote yes in the strike mandate vote, I believe talks are going well and that a fair contract can be reached. Indeed, there has only been 1 strike by this union is 34 years, and the conditions were different at that time. Of course, if the membership does votes no, while we will continue to bargain as best we can for an additional day or two, there will be no gains made in the contract, but rather there will be losses to take home pay and benefits.

      I hope members will take your example and continue to raise useful points so that issues can be clarified, so that members can vote with the conscience based on accurate information about the proposals and the bargaining process. Take good care, and in solidarity,


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