How does bargaining with the Parks Canada Agency work?

If it feels like your bargaining has been at the table for a long time, and very little progress is being made, you are partially correct. There are a lot of steps to take that can make the bargaining timeline appear to be very slow, and there are many tactics that employers use to delay bargaining for their own benefit. However, for every proposal that the employer offers, your bargaining team takes time to make sure that anything accepted will improve working conditions for our members. 

The work to get ready to bargain 

When does the process start? ​

Before PSAC meets with employer representatives of the Parks Canada Agency, members are asked to fill out a survey to share the issues that matter to them to improve their workplaces. These could include the need for more leave, salaries that can compete with inflation, actions to stop discrimination at work, as well as many other important issues. Locals are also asked to provide their input. At the same time, our union looks at other changes that weren’t achieved in previous rounds of bargaining, demands that other unions are negotiating, and new workplace trends.  

What issues get to the table? 

Once we receive input from members and locals, we bring a representative group of members together at a bargaining conference to let us know what they think. These discussions guide the bargaining teams when we have to make decisions later, during negotiations. PSAC held a virtual bargaining conference in 2021 with delegates from the Union of National Employees (UNE) and the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE).  

How do issues become bargaining demands? 

Members who will sit on the Parks bargaining team are elected at the bargaining conference. Each bargaining unit has its own team, and the members on each team are from within the unit. PSAC strives to make these teams as representative as possible so that they cover a variety of occupations, regions, departments, components and equity groups. The team also includes a staff negotiator, research officer, and communications officer.  

Each team is responsible for reviewing the input and feedback from the bargaining conference and putting together a final set of proposals to improve their collective agreement at the bargaining table. These are our bargaining demands. Rules that govern how bargaining teams are put together can be found in Regulation 15 of PSAC’s Constitution.    

How does bargaining work? 

We put the employer on notice

Within four months of the end of each agreement, PSAC advises the Parks Canada Agency that we want to bargain changes to the current agreement. This is called a notice to bargain. And while each agreement has an end date, the terms and conditions continue to apply until they are either replaced by a new agreement, or a strike takes place. 

Meeting to bargain

The next step is to set up meeting dates with the employer. Once dates have been agreed, PSAC and Parks Canada Agency each bring their team to the meetings. The union isn’t the only side to propose changes - the employer does too. Union demands focus on improving wages and working conditions. Employer demands often involve concessions. 

During the meetings, each side has an opportunity to explain their proposals and argue when the other side doesn’t agree. Depending on how responsive – or not – each side is to the other’s demands, these meetings can go on for many months. 

While bargaining with the employer continues, our team also makes time to meet alone to discuss the employer’s reaction to the union’s demands, and how to respond. Bargaining is a process of give and take, and as talks with the employer continue, the team will decide to withdraw some demands in favour of others that members have told the union have a higher priority. To reach an agreement, both sides may also modify their original proposals as discussions continue. 

Reaching a tentative agreement

The best outcome of these meetings is when the union and the employer agree on the changes that will be made to the agreement at this stage of the process. The changes are contained in what is known as a tentative agreement. An agreement becomes final when members have had an opportunity to vote to accept or reject it. 

Supporting the work of bargaining teams

Bargaining teams can’t do the hard work of negotiating alone. The employer needs to know from the outset that members are serious about their demands. PSAC and the teams regularly update members on how bargaining is progressing while mobilization activities are organized to show support and put pressure on the employer.  

These can include sending emails, applying pressure through social media, hosting townhall discussions, or organizing rallies. These activities can be fun and bring people together, but they always have a serious message. Your Parks bargaining team is only as strong as the members who support them and mobilize to show the employer we’re prepared to fight for a fair contract.

When bargaining breaks down  

Reaching impasse

If the union and employer can’t reach a tentative agreement, they can declare an impasse, meaning that they have gone as far as they can with no resolution in sight. At this stage, either the union or the employer can apply for conciliation. 

On receiving a request for conciliation, the Chairperson of the Federal Public Labour Relations Board may recommend that a public interest commission (PIC) be established for conciliation of the matters in dispute. The PIC is a panel of three people – a chairperson appointed by the Labour Board and nominees appointed by the union and management. Once the PIC is created, hearing dates are set where both parties give arguments in support of their positions. This process can take several months. 

Hearings are scheduled for the union and the employer to present written and oral arguments in support of their outstanding bargaining proposals. Once these hearings are completed, the PIC members review the evidence and arguments. Their role is to make recommendations to the union and the employer that could help them reach a settlement. The recommendations are not binding and neither side is required to accept them. 

The best outcome at this stage is for the union and the employer to resume bargaining in light of the recommendations. 

Getting ready for a strike

When bargaining breaks down, members still have a critical role in putting pressure on the employer to reach a fair settlement without having to resort to a strike. While bargaining progresses, members have a responsibility to stay informed by signing up for bargaining updates and information events. They can show the union is serious by calling and visiting their Members of Parliament, asking for their help to pressure the employer to make a better offer. And they can start practicing for a strike by organizing and joining information pickets and demos.   

Locals are provided with strike training so they can organize members in preparation for a possible strike. The more the employer knows members are mobilized, the greater the possibility there will be a settlement without a strike. 

Bringing a strike vote to members  

When bargaining has not gone well and a PIC has been set up, members may need to take strike action to get the improvements to the agreement they need. This is possible during every round of bargaining. 

At this stage, PSAC will organize a strike vote. Members have an opportunity to vote for or against strike action. The vote usually occurs around the release of the PIC recommendation because the results of the strike vote can only be used for 60 days.   

Preparing for strike action

If bargaining hasn’t produced a settlement, certain conditions have to be met before members can take strike action. 





  • It is at least seven (7) days since the Public Interest Commission has issued its recommendations 
  • The union and employer have agreed on which positions are essential services 
  • A majority of members have voted in favour of a strike and no more than 60 days have passed since the strike vote results were released 
  • PSAC’s national president authorizes the strike 
Finalizing essential services before a strike

During the bargaining process, the union and the employer work to determine which services will be considered essential and continue in the event of a strike. Members in these positions will be required to work during a strike but can support striking members in other ways.

Averting a strike at any time

Taking a strike vote doesn’t automatically mean that there will be a strike. There is nothing stopping the union and employer from meeting again at any time. Sometimes this happens with the help of a neutral third party, such as a mediator. It may happen before a strike occurs or while a strike is taking place. 

The best outcome is when the parties reach a tentative agreement before a strike takes place. But sometimes it takes a strike to get the employer to make a better offer by showing how seriously members support their bargaining demands. 

When a strike takes place, the parties usually reach an agreement voluntarily. 

Choosing the type of strike

The purpose of a strike is to put the maximum amount of pressure on Parks Canada Agency to reach a settlement. When talks break down, the union assesses what kind of action may be needed to get the employer to make the best possible offer. 

While the common perception of a strike is everyone off the job and out on a picket line, there are other types of strikes. A strike could start with employees working to rule. They follow to the letter their job description and all the rules and regulations that are part of their work. Or there could be selected, targeted or rotating strikes as part of a strategy to escalate the impact on the employer. This happens when members in a certain work location, a city, a region or province or across the country are organized to set up picket lines for one day at a time or a series of days. And sometimes, it takes all members out on strike to get the employer to take our demands seriously.

Finalizing a new agreement 

Whenever the union and the employer agree on a tentative agreement, members have the final say. Meetings are organized to explain the changes in the tentative agreement and a ratification vote is held. If a majority of members vote in favour, a new collective agreement will be signed. 

If members reject the tentative agreement before strike action has been needed, this could trigger more bargaining and/or a strike. If a strike was already in progress, it may continue. At some point, the strike will end and there will be a new agreement. 

And then the process begins all over again for the next agreement! 



December 9, 2022