Teaching Tool – What Do You Bring to the Bargaining Table?
By: Renee Allen
Renee Allen is a multi-hyphenate Jamaican-born, Toronto-based, writer-educator, with a passion for working with children and youth. She is deeply committed to work that interrogates and addresses interlocking systems of oppression. Her writing appears in Zora, THIS magazine and PREE. Renee is also a recent graduate of the Masters of Teaching program at the University of Toronto, with a book collection that keeps outgrowing her bookcase.
Subject Area: Interdisciplinary
Grade Level: 7–12
Suggested Time: 120 minutes
Teaching Tool Overview
This guide supports educators in facilitating a union representative’s visit to your class. Since unions often work behind closed doors to advocate for employee rights, students could benefit from the firsthand account of a local union representative. The purpose of the union representative’s visit is to share perspectives on the collective bargaining process and the Trade Unions Act. As a follow-up activity, students will create a mock union representing the class, where they will have to go to the bargaining table to negotiate fair contracts.
Potential Union Representatives
There is a range of unions for both the public and private sectors across Canada. Though this is not an exhaustive list, it is a starting point to support you in identifying and contacting a union representative:
- Unifor – Canada’s largest private sector union, representing workers from industries like manufacturing, hospitality, media, etc.
- Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – Supports workers across Canada in sectors like education, childcare, transportation, etc.
- Teachers’ associations – Separate unions across Canada’s provinces and territories to support the needs of teachers like Centrale de l’enseignement du Québec, Alberta Teachers’ Association, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, etc.
You may also consider co-constructing a list of professions your students are interested in and then identifying the unions they represent. For example:
- Actors – Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) National
- Chefs – United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada
- Firefighters – Vary across provinces and territories; for example, Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association
- Custodians – Local CUPE
Union Terminology Flashcards
Before the union representative’s visit, it might be helpful to review key terminology with students. You might start by asking students to identify words/phrases they’re familiar with and reveal flashcards or collaborate to create definitions of the following:
- Collective agreement
- Bargaining table
- Bargaining unit
- Good faith bargaining
You might also explore the following resources provided by unions:
Guiding Questions for Visit
When the union representative visits, students should identify a few questions they’d like their guest to answer. The following can serve as a starting point for questions that students can use/build upon:
- How did you become a union representative?
- Who do you represent?
- What is your favourite part of your role?
- Are you paid for your role?
- How were you selected?
- What is it like to be at the bargaining table?
Potential Post-Visit Activity
Based on the union representative’s perspectives, students could form a union that represents the class, with the educator acting as the employer. The class must select union representatives who will take part in negotiating a collective agreement. The class must work together to support the union representatives in identifying key issues they’d like to advocate for in the classroom and how they’d like the employer (teacher) to address them. Potential issues could include:
- Less/no homework
- More screen time
- Longer lunch break
- More frequent holidays
- More PA days