Experienced Toronto Labour Lawyers Advising Employers on Collective Agreement Interpretation

In a unionized environment, the collective agreement is a fundamentally important aspect of the workplace relationship. A collective agreement is the written contract between the employer and the union, outlining the rights and responsibilities of both parties, as well as the terms and conditions of employment for the employees. Collective agreements can be negotiated between the parties or imposed through binding arbitration or legislation.

If a dispute arises in a unionized workplace, the collective agreement is the first place the parties will turn to for answers.  Due to the fundamental importance of a collective agreement in a unionized environment, collective agreement interpretation tends to become a matter of great contention between the parties, as each side fights to interpret the document in their favour.

At Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Toronto, our labour lawyers have been helping unionized employers across all sectors with collective agreement interpretation for more than 30 years. We assist our clients by interpreting the language in their agreement, guiding them through the grievance process (if a grievance is filed by the union), and representing them during any resulting grievance arbitrations.

Principles of Collective Agreement Interpretation

A collective agreement reflects the final consensus reached between the parties at the bargaining table. As such, each party is assumed to have intended what they have said and the Plain Meaning Rule of interpretation applies. That is, words are given their ordinary meaning, technical or legal terms are given their technical or legal meaning, and specific usage of words is recognized in the particular context at play between the parties.

Other important aspects of collective interpretation include:

  • Contextual interpretation – reading the collective agreement as a whole, including the preamble, headings and footnotes, in order to ascertain the relationship between the parties and their intentions;
  • Negotiating history between the parties – where language is ambiguous, the negotiating history and past practice (i.e. how the parties have applied the collective agreement in the past) as between the parties will be taken into consideration;
  • Implied terms – in some instances, legislation may be implicitly part of a collective agreement;
  • Duty of fairness – where language is not express, employers are required to act in a manner that is not discriminatory.

Contact Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Toronto for Assistance with Collective Agreement Interpretation

Disputes over collective agreement language can be lengthy, costly, and ultimately disruptive to workplace relations. If you are an employer faced with a collective interpretation issue, contact one of the highly experienced and extremely well respected labour lawyers at Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Toronto. We have been helping unionized employers with their labour relations issues, including collective agreement related matters, for over 40 years. Contact us at 416-364-9599 or online to schedule a consultation.