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Guidelines for Decision-making Within the Academic Staff Association During the Collective Bargaining Period

CAUT Policy Statement


During an academic staff association’s collective bargaining period (i.e., from the preparation of proposals up to the ratification of the new contract), there are many participants involved in negotiations. The individual member, the whole membership, the executive committee, the president of the association, the bargaining team, the chief spokesperson/negotiator and the members of each supporting committee have an interest in the ultimate outcome of this process. Each participant has the same goal: improving contract language thus improving working conditions and compensation covered in the new collective agreement. However, each participant does not have the same responsibility or authority.

Through CAUT’s experience with the collective bargaining process, mostly in assisting and observing academic staff associations, we have come to the conclusion that some guidelines need to be established between participants - prior to negotiations - in order to foster a better bargaining climate for the association. During the bargaining period, negotiations are not limited to the association and the employer but also occur among all of the aforementioned participants - therefore the need to have some guidelines to manage negotiations.

This document outlines one model for an effective decision-making process. We believe it will assist member associations in maximizing the results at the bargaining table. The following document should be seen as an ensemble of recommendations on how to implement a more effective decision-making process during the bargaining period. However, we recognize that there are many different legitimate ways of dealing with negotiations and the procedures suggested in the document are only intended as guidelines


If certified, the association is the sole bargaining agent for those members of the bargaining unit as defined in the certificate. There are two types of membership: membership in the bargaining unit and membership in the association. Except in special circumstances, all members of the association are members of the bargaining unit but the opposite is not necessarily true. Thus, a distinction must be made between the members of the association and the members of the bargaining unit.

Membership in the Association

Membership in the association is normally determined by the payment of membership dues to the association.1 Normally, only members in good standing with the association may be elected to the executive committee, serve on the bargaining team, serve on supporting committees or participate in the decision making process of the association. However, this does not preclude the executive from appointing whomever it wishes as a member of the bargaining team; e.g., non-members of the association, staff members, lawyers, professional negotiators.

The membership of the association has the responsibility to elect the executive committee, to establish association policy, convene meetings and approve the association's budget (or other financial matters), and to develop a mandate for negotiations. This authority is expressed at different meetings of the association as provided for under its constitution

Membership in the Bargaining Unit

Members of the bargaining unit refers to those employees covered by a certification order issued by a labour relations board or as modified by negotiation between the parties; therefore these employees fall under the collective agreement and are represented by the association. However, some employees may elect not to be members of the association (usually because of a religious or conscientious objection). The association still has to represent these employees specifically they have a right to vote on ratification of the collective agreement and on strike action, and those rights defined under the applicable labour legislation, but non-members have no other rights to participate beyond those rights defined the applicable labour legislation and the association constitution.

Executive Committee and Officers

The executive committee is elected directly by the membership in a manner and at intervals determined by the association’s constitution and bylaws. The executive committee is normally comprised of a larger number of individuals than the total number of officers. Officers of the association usually include the president, vice-president, past-president, secretary and treasurer. All officers and members of the executive are directly responsible to the general membership of the association - there is no intermediary authority.2


The power to delegate authority to run the affairs of the association, including collective bargaining, rests with the membership of the association. This authority is delegated to the executive committee.

In turn, the authority to negotiate a new collective agreement should be delegated by the executive to a bargaining team.

A bargaining team should be selected by the executive committee and ratified by the membership. This is preferable to one elected directly by the membership because if both the executive and the bargaining team are directly elected, both appear to inherit the same level of authority from the membership. This can create problems if these two committees disagree on an approach to take in bargaining and justify their decision-making power from their election by the membership.

All members of the bargaining unit may attend meetings which should be convened to present a summary of negotiating objectives in principle, to ratify a tentative settlement or vote on a request for strike or other job/work action (See 4.1).

Progress reports on negotiations should be presented regularly.

Communication with and information to the membership is an essential part of bargaining. This could be done, for example, through a regular series of meetings and/or through a negotiations newsletter. 

Experience has shown that a well-informed membership has the tendency to support the decisions of the executive committee and the bargaining team.

The authority to accept or reject the association’s newly negotiated collective agreement and to resort to strike action should rest with members of the bargaining unit of the association. Although a secret ratification ballot on a new contract is not legally required in most jurisdictions, it is by far the recommended practice for all academic staff associations. Please note however that in most jurisdictions, a secret ballot is required for strike action.

Ratification of a collective agreement by members of the bargaining unit can either be done at a general membership meeting or by mail ballot. An agreement is ratified when more than 50% of those voting have voted in favour of acceptance of the new agreement. It is customary for members to be provided with a summary of changes to the new agreement as well as the actual newly negotiated collective agreement provisions, including the negotiated back-to-work protocol in cases where a strike has occurred (a model protocol is appended to this document. Members should be given ample notice of the time and place of the meeting or to return mail ballots, as well as time to review the summary of changes and changes to the agreement.

When reports are made in meetings of the association, members of the bargaining unit who are not members of the association should be able to attend only with the expressed permission of the association membership then in attendance at that meeting.

Since non-members of the association (who are members of the unit) cannot participate in any decision-making process regarding the association, they cannot participate in association business including reports on bargaining except where provided for by provincial statute or the association’s constitution and bylaws.

Multi-Campus Bargaining Units

Faculty and librarians may work at locations other than the main university campus; these individuals may be part of a single bargaining unit along with faculty and librarians from the main campus. In some cases the distance between these off-campus locations and the main campus may be considerable. The association executive may need to make special efforts to include these members in the decision-making and information processes related to collective bargaining. In addition to traditional means such a special mailings, newsletters, surveys, mail-ballots, the executive should consider use of electronic media such a teleconferencing, e-mail, web sites, and listservs to establish and to maintain contact with off-campus members. The association should also consider including representation from each off-campus location on the executive committee.

Delegated Authority

Executive Committee

The delegated authority to administer the affairs of the association, to administer the negotiated contract of the bargaining unit, and to instruct the bargaining team should rest with the constitutionally elected president and executive committee of the association. The executive committee should be able to appoint any supporting committees it deems necessary, including the bargaining team.

Authority should be delegated to the president of the association to make decisions regarding negotiations between executive committee meetings. The president should make every effort to consult as many members of the Executive as circumstances permit before making a decision.

Further, the chairpersons of the bargaining team and of each supporting committee should meet regularly with the president to discuss overall strategy. All committee chairpersons should report to and take instruction from the president of the association between executive Committee meetings.

Bargaining Team

The delegated authority specified above (in 5.1) should confer upon the executive committee the responsibility to select and appoint, and if necessary the authority to remove, the bargaining team or any of its members. This authority should include the power to choose and appoint the bargaining team’s chief spokesperson/negotiator. Ideally, a bargaining team should reflect the composition of the bargaining unit. Once selected, the association membership should ratify the appointment of the bargaining team. The bargaining team should assign responsibilities within the team.

The bargaining team should have the sole authority to represent the bargaining unit in negotiations with the employer and shall develop proposals based on the mandate supported by the executive committee and by members of the bargaining unit. The executive should ensure that all members of the association, including part-time members, librarians and members of marginalized groups, have been fairly represented during the formation of bargaining proposals. The bargaining team should consult regularly with and take instruction from the president and/or the executive committee as to general strategy and responses in principle to proposals from the employer.

The chief spokesperson/negotiator should be the sole spokesperson on behalf of the bargaining team. Others members of the bargaining team should be permitted to address employer representatives, the executive committee or the membership only when their expertise on particular negotiating issues requires it and when authorized to do so by the chief spokesperson/negotiator.

The association president, other members of the executive committee, and selected members of the bargaining unit may (preferably on the invitation of the bargaining team) attend at the negotiating table from time to time as observers or experts on particular negotiating issues. However, we recommend that negotiations be conducted in private i.e. not open to members or third parties such as students. This, in order to facilitate an open dialogue between the two parties’ representatives at the table.

Supporting Committees

Other committees, such as a member mobilization committee, a research committee, a communications/media committee, and a work action/strike committee could be appointed by the executive committee in order to provide specific support to the bargaining team or to support the collective bargaining process in general. These committees should be appointed by the executive in consultation with the chief spokesperson/negotiator. They should be appointed shortly after the negotiating committee.

Each committee should have the principal authority in its area of responsibility but should consult regularly with and take instruction from the president and/or executive committee as to general strategy or approach.

These committees should have a research and advisory function only. These supporting committees report to, and are subject to, the executive committee. Their activities require the approval of the executive, preferably after an assessment, in consultation with the chief spokesperson/negotiator, of the likely impact of those activities on the progress of negotiations. Any such activities must be responsive to the needs of the bargaining team. The association president, other members of the executive committee, and the chief spokesperson/negotiator may attend meetings of supporting committees from time to time as observers or experts on particular issues.

Reporting Structure

During the period that a collective agreement is under negotiation, including periods of preparation for the negotiation, a representative of the bargaining team (preferably the chief spokesperson/negotiator) should attend all meetings of the executive committee, to report on the development of proposals or the progress of negotiations with the employer.

Proposed contract language for collective bargaining should be developed from the mandate given by the membership and drafted by the bargaining team. Once in written form, the proposed language shall first be presented to the executive committee for approval.

The proposed language should be made available to bargaining unit members (see 4.5 Multi-Campus Bargaining Units); however, for strategic reasons the exact language need not be released, i.e. the proposals may be presented in the form of concepts (see 4.3).

The proposed contract language does not need further approval given that they flow from the mandate previously approved by the bargaining unit.

During the negotiating process, all interim reports to the members of the association should be presented by the president or the executive committee (See 4.5 Multi-Campus Bargaining Units). The president or the executive committee may elect to be assisted by or to delegate this responsibility to a member of the bargaining team.

When all the articles have been agreed to by the parties at the negotiating table, the proposed collective agreement should be presented by the bargaining team to the executive committee. The executive should normally approve the contract for recommendation to the membership of the bargaining unit. Once this recommendation has been obtained, the executive committee will present the proposed collective agreement to the members of the bargaining unit for its ratification.

If an agreement cannot be reached between the parties at the bargaining table, the bargaining team should report to and take instruction from the executive committee. The executive committee may elect to consult the association membership.

In all cases where job/work action is deemed necessary by the executive committee, it will consult the association membership. In all cases where a strike action is deemed necessary, the executive committee will submit this to a secret ballot vote of the bargaining unit members. (See 4.1)

The president of the association, except where authority has expressly been delegated otherwise, should be the only one to speak to the media on all negotiating matters. The chief spokesperson/negotiator should not serve as a media contact or spokesperson unless delegated by the president of the association.

Efforts should be made in order that the president is the contact person with CAUT. However, when in collective bargaining, the president may delegate this responsibility to the chief spokesperson/negotiator who, in turn, may delegate a member of the bargaining team. The contact person should be identified and should be the one designated to contact CAUT concerning collective bargaining matters.

Approved by the CAUT Council, November 1998;
revised, November 1999;
editorial revisions: May 2010 and February 2015;
Revised draft approved by Collective Bargaining and Economic Benefits Committee, August 2021
Draft approved by the Executive Committee, September 2021; Referred to Council for consideration;
Revisions approved by the CAUT Council, November 2021.


1 Payment of an amount equal to membership dues does not always mean that one is a member of the academic staff association.

2 Most academic staff associations in Canada have no intermediary authority between the membership and the executive committee. However, a few associations have the equivalent of a governing body of elected departmental representatives which serve as an intermediary decision making body between the two.