Toby Whitfield | CUPE Research

Reviewing contract language can help locals safeguard the benefits they have worked hard to gain.

Negotiated benefits cover a wide range of areas including health, dental, accidental death and dismemberment, and travel and life insurance. Details can be wide-ranging, including plan design and structure, premiums and administration. Many collective agreements state that employees will be enrolled in a health and dental plan or that they will receive benefits from a provider. Language like this requires an employer to make benefits available.

In some cases, benefits negotiated during bargaining are administered on behalf of the employer by one or more third-party service providers. In these circumstances, it is important to have clear and detailed language in your collective agreement to hold the employer accountable. Relying on a third-party provider to implement benefits without a clear list of what’s covered can leave your members vulnerable or lead to confusion about members’ entitlements.

For example, a collective agreement might provide for a dental plan but might not state what specific procedures are covered. The specific plan design could be determined by the employer and service provider – and it could change over time. To protect your members, include an itemized list of benefits in your collective agreement to ensure that what you have agreed to is actually provided.

Think about the way CUPE locals negotiate earnings: Collective agreements state specific details about wages and usually include the rate of compensation and frequency of payments. It would be unreasonable to agree to compensation language that merely said employers will “pay employees.” It would also be unreasonable to agree to benefit language that simply says an employer will provide a benefit plan.

Benefit plans can be complex and can include a range of different coverages. CUPE recommends that locals include specific language about the plan, eligibility and costs in the contract’s articles. Also, attach a summary of benefits. This approach ensures your benefits are well-documented and limits an employer’s ability to arbitrarily change them. It also makes the employer responsible for providing specific coverage and allows you to point to a list of benefits in case of disagreement.

What your local can do:

  • Review your current collective agreement(s)
  • Identify any language that relates to benefits
  • Make sure the language clearly outlines the benefits provided 

Remember, if someone who was unfamiliar with your benefits read the collective agreement, would they know what was covered? If not, consider preparing new language to propose in bargaining.

CUPE is here to help. For more support, connect with your CUPE staff representative. Find sample bargaining language at cupe.ca/bargaining-benefits-collective-agreement-language