- How did we get here?
- What is our goal?
- What is a Framework Agreement and Collective Agreement?
- Why do we want a collective agreement?
- What is The Society?
- What are the benefits of joining The Society?
- How much are Society dues?
- Will being a union member affect my ethical obligations?
- How will non-GTA lawyers be represented?
- How will employees on contract benefit from joining The Society?
- How can The Society address workplace health and safety concerns?
- Who can vote?
- What will the ballot say?
- How is the confidentiality of my vote protected?
- When will the vote be held?
- How can I get more vote information?
For more than three years, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) lawyers have been campaigning to achieve voluntary recognition of our collective bargaining rights from our employer and negotiate an agreement with The Society as our bargaining agent.
Several years earlier, some of our colleagues were concerned about the working conditions at LAO. They passed around a hat to collect money, retained a labour lawyer, and raised some issues with management. There were some gains in the workplace, but without a structure and succession plan the group eventually collapsed without lasting bargaining agreements in place.
This time, we struck a committee to investigate our options for a long-term alternative. Our committee conducted a search for organizations that specialized in representing various professionals, including lawyers. The committee found that The Society of Energy Professionals (The Society) was best suited to help us organize.
With the support of The Society, we began doing outreach across the province asking our colleagues to sign a petition to support our campaign for collective bargaining rights with The Society as our bargaining agent. About 80 percent of LAO lawyers indicated their support and signed the petition.
Despite wide support, LAO refused to entertain our proposal to voluntarily recognize The Society as our official bargaining agent. Unfortunately, lawyers are exempt from the Ontario Labour Relations Act and therefore we could not rely on labour law to compel our employer to negotiate with us. However, through our dedication to better our workplace and with the unwavering support of The Society, we have finally secured an opportunity to have the binding collective negotiations we want. The upcoming vote is the next step towards achieving our goal. Like the petition, we need a strong YES vote to send a clear message to LAO.
We were then, and are now, seeking transparency and fairness at work, improved client service to Legal Aid, and to have LAO address our concerns with working conditions. We are dedicated to hearing from our LAO colleagues across the province, and see the need for a collective voice to articulate our concerns and protect our professional and ethical obligations, no matter where we work.
Our goal is to establish The Society as our bargaining agent and have a real voice in defining the terms and conditions of employment.
We believe collective bargaining rights will help us advocate for our clients, uphold our professional and ethical obligations, and create a better, fairer workplace.
After a majority of LAO lawyers casting ballots vote YES, the next step will be discussions with LAO to develop a Framework Agreement. The Framework Agreement will set up the labour relations foundation between the parties. Our aim is to have the Framework Agreement mirror the essential components of collective bargaining legislation, which primarily sets out the rules and processes for collective bargaining, but will also contain the process by which the union can be dissolved. This includes a process for resolving differences at the bargaining table, for example, a process of binding interest arbitration. Given the employer’s concerns expressed in the constitutional challenge about strikes by lawyers, and given that Ontario government lawyers have interest arbitration as the method for resolving collective bargaining impasses, we expect that we will reach agreement on a process of interest arbitration.
After this stage is complete, the next steps are preparations for the first Collective Agreement negotiations. A workplace survey will be sent out to all LAO lawyers and membership meetings will be set-up geographically to develop our bargaining priorities. An elected Bargaining Committee, voted by and comprised of LAO lawyers, will develop bargaining proposals with support from an experienced labour relations negotiator from The Society.
A Collective Agreement is a legally binding contract that sets out the terms and conditions of employment with our employer. Examples of basic items found in collective agreements include compensation, hours of work, vacancies and promotions, professional development, and vacation time. As well, the Collective Agreement can also deal with professional issues and concerns.
Collective Agreements also have a dispute resolution mechanism (known as a grievance procedure), outlining an agreed upon process of investigation and binding arbitration that can be triggered by a lawyer should they feel the collective agreement has been breached or that they have been treated unfairly by their employer. During such a process, the lawyer would have access to The Society’s staff and legal counsel to represent their interests in a dispute.
Collectively bargaining workplace rules, practices and working conditions will promote a fair and equitable workplace and improve our ability to serve our clients effectively and vigorously.
Having a collective agreement provides the ability to address workplace concerns, such as protection of our ethical and professional obligations, unsustainable workloads, proper training, organizational transparency, and inconsistent policy application. These concerns are some of the reasons that motivated us to organize.
A collective agreement will ensure that we have and are able to maintain a voice in our workplace through which we can improve the terms and conditions of our employment. As frontline staff we have a level of experience and knowledge of the services provided by LAO that need to be heard and considered in policy making. A collective agreement will ensure that we are part of the dialogue as our workplace evolves.
The Society was founded in the mid-1940s and evolved from a specialized association representing energy professionals to an organization representing a broad spectrum of professionals across the province. Over the past eight decades, The Society has developed a distinctive approach to labour negotiations that focuses on developing solutions rather than creating conflict.
The Society has more than 40 highly trained and experienced full-time staff and elected officials, including three lawyers. In addition, The Society is affiliated with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), who have been representing professionals since 1918 and currently act on behalf of 80,000 members across North America. The IFPTE represents professionals of all stripes, including lawyers and judges.
The Society is the union of choice for LAO Lawyers
The Society has the desire, reach and resources to service our colleagues across the province. Most importantly they have an excellent reputation for negotiating first class contracts and utilizing mediation/arbitration where possible to resolve disputes.
The Society and its membership have unwaveringly supported our campaign for collective bargaining rights for more than three years. On our own, we would not have had the time, resources, or expertise to sustain a coordinated effort to be recognized by our employer.
The Society is well positioned and resourced to continue meeting the needs of LAO Lawyers. They have a long history of working with employees in regulated professions, and understand our relationship to the Law Society of Upper Canada. They are also experienced working with professionals who are employed by agencies which are directed or funded by the Province of Ontario.
By joining The Society, LAO lawyers will have the ability to address workplace concerns as an organized group with the backing of Society resources and expertise. Through the process of collective bargaining, greater transparency and accountability on important issues such as fair job competitions, relocations and layoffs will be outlined step-by-step in the collective agreement.
In the event you feel as though you have not been treated fairly, you can call your Society representative – an individual whose job it is to represent your interests – and you will have access to an effective dispute resolution mechanism and will be able to enforce the policies negotiated within the collective agreement.
We will be able to protect working conditions we currently value from arbitrary changes by negotiating them into our contract. Most importantly, joining The Society will enhance our ability to honour our professional and ethical obligations by providing us with an added sense of job security should we need to speak out as a group or individually.
Dues for joining The Society are currently $21 per week and tax deductible. No dues are collected until a collective agreement is finalized. The Society offers a member discount program that provides savings from select service providers, including cell phone, internet/cable and insurance providers. Through utilizing the discounts on auto and home insurance alone, many Society members have been able to offset the entire cost of their union dues.
Dues are democratically decided upon by the membership of The Society. As members, we will have a say in future dues determination discussions.
Watch these videos on dues:
As a professionally regulated field, the Law Society of Upper Canada determines the requirements of our profession including the ethical standards we need to maintain. Our collective agreement will cover terms and conditions of our employment, and will not undermine our ethical obligations.
However, having the support of a union could help us voice concerns in the workplace when we feel like our ethical obligations are being infringed upon. We can have a voice in workplace policy making that directly impacts how we are able to conduct our work and the quality of service our clients receive.
Legal Aid lawyers in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick have union representation and collective bargaining. They perform the same work as Ontario’s Legal Aid lawyers – employed by the provinces’ Legal Aid system to providing legal advocacy and advice to low income people.
The Campaign Committee is always looking for more colleagues to join the organizing effort and are able to facilitate your attendance at regular meetings regardless of geographical location. Following a positive vote outcome, preparations to elect a Bargaining Committee will begin. Every effort will be made to balance the composition of the Bargaining Committee to reflect the area of law and geographical scope of our workplace. The elected Bargaining Committee is accountable to all members of the LAO lawyers bargaining unit.
Individuals employed on contract directly by LAO will benefit from a collective agreement that provides clear guidelines around contract positions. We will have the opportunity to establishing policies on the duration of temporary positions, process for extensions, transitions to permanent positions, etc.
Both permanent and contract Lawyers are eligible to vote.
With The Society representing us, we will have an advocate on our side to support us in enforcing existing health and safety legislation. As well, through bargaining and other supported discussions with our employer, we can tackle health and safety issues that may be specific to the nature or location of our work. As a result, we will be able to put safeguards in place that go beyond what is offered currently in health and safety law.
All lawyers employed by LAO in the province of Ontario engaged in the practice of law, save and except lawyers employed in the General Counsel Office, lawyers in the labour relations and human resources department, the Senior Advisor Clinics, Special Advisors, Investigators, Supervisory Duty Counsel, Managers and any other person above the rank of Manager.
Both permanent and contract Lawyers are eligible to vote.
If 50%+1 of those who cast ballots vote YES, it guarantees we enter into binding negotiations with our employer to arrive at a framework agreement for negotiation of our working conditions and The Society will be our official bargaining agent.
The vote will be conducted by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and the ballot will say: Do you wish to be represented in your employment relations by the trade union, The Society of Energy Professionals?
Our answer is YES!
The vote will be conducted by secret ballot and is being run by the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The Ontario Labour Relations Board is an independent third party from LAO and The Society. They have experience conducting hundreds of union representation votes and take the issue of maintaining secret ballot integrity very seriously. Your decision on the secret ballot will not be revealed to LAO, The Society, or anyone else.
The vote will be conducted by secret ballot at polling stations across Ontario between Monday, October 17th and Friday, October 21st, 2016. We are working with the Ontario Labour Relations Board and LAO to reach a consensus on voting times and locations. Our focus is for polling to be as conveniently located and timed as possible so that all LAO lawyers have an opportunity to cast a ballot. We will share the information with you by email, website, Facebook and Twitter as soon as possible.
As more information about voting times and locations becomes available, we will be providing updates on our website, Facebook and Twitter, as well as via email and phone calls.
We are attempting to connect with all of our colleagues across the province. If you would like to set up a meeting, by phone or in person, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.