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How does collective bargaining work in the college system?

The Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA), Ontario 2008 applies to both support staff and academic employees and governs collective bargaining in the Ontario college system.

Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) Background Information

Here is a timeline that resulted in the current version of the CCBA:

  • In 1975, the Ontario government passed the original CCBA. The law barred part-time and sessional faculty as well as part-time support staff from joining a union.
  • In 2007, the Ontario government under Premier McGuinty considers that the CCBA might be in violation of the “freedom of association” provision of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • A review of the CCBA is undertaken and Kevin Whitaker, Vice-Chair of the Labour Relations Board, is appointed to conduct the review.
  • November 2007: The Colleges make a submission to Whitaker that recommends allowing the employer, and not the union, to call a vote on the offer last received. See page 9 of their submission: The Council submission to Whitaker 2007
  • February 2008: Kevin Whitaker issues his report: WhitakerCollegesReportFeb08
  • November 2008: The Ontario government accepts Whitaker’s report in its entirety, drafts and passes Bill 90. The CCBA 2008 can be found here:
  • October 2017: Part-time and sessional faculty vote as to whether or not they wish to join OPSEU. As of January 2022, these votes still have not been counted.


Features of the CCBA

The 2008 CCBA introduced features that had not existed in the 1975 law:

  • Terms and Conditions of Work: The employer can impose terms and conditions of work should a collective agreement expire and a new one has not been negotiated. The College Employer Council (CEC) is the only employer body that we are aware of who has done this twice: November 2009 and December 2021.
  • Offer Votes: The employer can “force” a vote on the employer’s last contract offer no earlier than 15 days before the expiry of a collective agreement. Whitaker acknowledges the colleges’ request to have the employer call the offer vote “at the employer’s option,” and not the union’s option, on p. 76 of his report. At page 85, he accepts the Colleges’ proposal as his Recommendation #17: “The purpose behind this statutory feature is to permit the employer to test the attractiveness of its bargaining proposal directly with employees.” The CEC has called such a vote in 2010, 2017, and now 2022.
  • Binding Arbitration: Although Whitaker recommends deleting the section on binding arbitration from the CCBA, he says the following on page 84: of his report “The parties can always if they wish, agree to settle issues in bargaining by arbitration. Although this is a feature of the OLRA [Ontario Labour Relations Act], the CCBA should reflect the thinking that this is not a preferred route for dispute resolution. If it does become necessary, then the agreement of the parties or back to work legislation can provide for a mechanism of binding interest arbitration.” The law can’t prevent two parties from using arbitration on their own. For example, if you were suing someone, they could always agree with you to have an arbitrator settle it instead of the courts.
  • Changes to the Union’s Role: Under the CCBA 2008 the union can now only call two types of votes as supervised by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). They are a strike vote under Section 17(1)(c) or a ratification vote under Section 16. The definition of a ratification vote is a vote on an offer that has been signed off by both bargaining teams (often called a “memorandum of settlement”). During a ratification vote, the “prinicipals” (i.e. the union and its bargaining team) must recommend acceptance of the settlement offer “without reservation.” To make comments to the contrary and suggest a “no” vote, would invite a “bargaining in bad faith” complaint either from the employer or from any of the employees.


Bargaining Process Flowchart

Here is a flowchart illustrating the bargaining process under the CCBA, updated for 2021.