Two noteworthy decisions just released by the Supreme Court of Canada. What do these mean for front line managers’ rights? Could the constitutional right to be represented by a bargaining agent apply to front line and middle managers?
The first decision gave all RCMP employees the right to bargaining collectively with their employer. The second decision stuck down a section of the Saskatchewan government’s public sector legislation that gave the government the authority to finally decide essential employees when the parties had a dispute.
In most governments and many large private sector employers, these managers have very limited authority to act as the “employer” in the traditional collective bargaining sense. These managers do not have the right to outright fire employees. Their involvement in hiring is very controlled. Senior management usually has to bless any hiring before a job offer can be made. They have no control over salary and senior management routinely overrules their recommendations on performance pay or bonuses. The assignment of their subordinates’ work is largely determined by job descriptions, which no mere middle manager could create or change. Either a Regulation or collective agreements determine their employees’ hours of work and the work schedules.
In the private sector the situation is somewhat different. Small businesses, say up to a few hundred employees, give front line and middle managers more say in discipline, dismissal, assignment of work and pay raises. This is largely due to the fact that these small businesses are not unionized. Large businesses such as telecoms, railways, auto plants etc., are usually unionized and may treat front line and middle managers in much the same manner as governments. Certainly this is true for the non-union financial services sector. These large businesses are, like governments, mostly bureaucratic in their management style, thus front line and middle managers have little real authority from a labour relations perspective.
Private sector front line and middle managers and their government counterparts, have been harshly affected by the pay restraints for the last six to eight years while executive pay and bonuses have skyrocketed during the same time period. Salary compression with managers’ subordinates has worsened. In government many front line and middle managers are very frustrated by this treatment by politicians. In the private sector most front line or middle managers have been treated similarly but are unlikely to complain. They would be told you are lucky to have the job.
Perhaps we will see one of the public sector unions break the “management ceiling” on collective bargaining rights in the next couple years. Will an organization who has signed up managers be willing to take a Labour Board rejection of bargaining rights for managers all the way to the Supreme Court? Will they win? And if they do win, how will it affect collective bargaining generally? What will organizations that wish to avoid unionization of managers, do to avoid having their managers unionized?
Author: Malcolm Smeaton
Date : February 8, 2015