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January 15, 2010 Joseph W. Ryan

Unions and Condominiums: Think They Can't Occupy the Same Space? Think Again!

Time and again we are met with nothing short of astonishment when, in discussing employment related issues with managers and directors of condominium corporations, we impress upon those individuals the need to be particularly attentive to employee relations and workplace issues in light of the fact that any condominium corporation that directly employs more than one employee, such as cleaning staff or superintendents, is vulnerable to having its workplace and such employees made subject to an application for certification by any one of a number of unions that have taken an interest in certifying bargaining units at condominiums.

It is not unusual to have condominium clients contact us in a panic because they have been served with an application for certification. Invariably, both management and the board are confounded as to how this could happen; how circumstances could arise that would lead to such steps being taken by the employees. After all, the employees are the ones, at the end of the day, who enlist the assistance of a union and ultimately have the final say in approving that union as its representative in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

All too often, when some simple, probing questions are asked, there is always an underlying reason – sometimes more than one - to which employee dissatisfaction can be attributed: the most common reasons are failure on the condominium corporation’s part to entertain any kind of pay raise for a period of time or failure to provide employees with any kind of non-monetary security such as group benefits.

To compound the unsettling effects of a certification application, management and condominium boards can find themselves doubly panicked when they learn just how short the timeframes are for responding to and dealing with these types of applications under the governing legislation, the Labour Relations Act. Before directors can catch their breath and get oriented to the process, they find themselves engaged in negotiations for a first collective bargaining agreement, while at the same time struggling to understand fully how they could be embroiled in such a costly process, particularly in situations where the corporation may employ as few as two employees.

When the dust settles on this process, and the parties involved on behalf of the condominium corporation have an opportunity to engage in some honest and objective reflection upon the circumstances that led to these events, they will come to realize that responsibility most often lies with the condominium corporation, as the employer, and management, as its representative in supervising employees, for having neglected to pay more attention to employee relations and, if employees are unhappy, failing to identify the issues that are making them unhappy so that those issues can be addresses in a meaningful way and without undue delay, if only because doing so will ultimately serve the best interest of the condominium corporation.

If the condominium corporation wishes to be pro-active in taking steps to avoid such circumstances, one might start with an examination of which issues are most important to your employees. In that examination, consider what employees stand to gain by enlisting the assistance of a union and by negotiating a collective agreement. Even review a few collective agreements to get an idea what protections, rights or entitlements (monetary and non-monetary) they offer. Then consider implementing some of those elements in your employment relationship with your employees. In doing so, be sensitive and alive to the fact that an issue that may seem insignificant to the employer may nevertheless be of great importance to the employees. Often, employees enlist the assistance of a union because sometimes just one of the many elements that make up an employment relationship is left unaddressed for too long and is allowed to fester into deeply seated discontent.

As but one example, one condominium client found itself negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement because, despite employee requests over a lengthy period of time, the corporation had failed to put employees’ pay on a system of direct deposit, which in turn led to instances where employees’ paycheques were late being issued.

Therefore, a word of warning: pay attention to your employees and their concerns. Failure to do so may lead to unexpected consequences. If the condominium corporation is not prepared to engage in that on-going analysis, or is not interested in either the responsibilities attendant on being an employer or the consequences of failing to address those responsibilities in a manner satisfactory to its employees, then the corporation should consider other options such as engaging independent service providers to provide those services to the condominium.

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Joseph W. Ryan

Joseph W. Ryan Associate

B.A. (Hons.), LL.B.

jryan@finedeo.com
905.760.1800 x228
905.760.0050

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