Unions Fight For That: Fair Contracts
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Labor unions help workers in a number of different ways, from lobbying for the passage of pro-worker legislation to supporting workers’ rights to participate in concerted activities. But they make their greatest impact through collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining is how “working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment,” the AFL-CIO writes. These contracts cover all aspects of work, including compensation, leave, schedules, benefits, discipline, safety, and many others.
Union negotiators ensure those contracts are comprehensive, fair, and meet the expectations of the workers.
The Negotiation Committee Represents the Will of the Workers
The union’s negotiation committee plays a crucial role in collective bargaining.
“The contract is tailor-designed by and for the employees, with the help of union lawyers and professionals,” explains the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 812. So, before collective bargaining begins, the negotiating committee has to know exactly what the workers they represent want to achieve in the final contract.
To that end, union leaders will poll members about which issues they want addressed during negotiations. From these surveys, “top issues are identified and help form the basis of the union’s bargaining proposal to the employer,” notes the United Automobile Workers (UAW). Those proposals get negotiated until the parties reach an agreement.
So, how can a union’s members be sure the negotiating committee is honestly and accurately representing their interests?
For one, negotiators are members of the unit, and the contract directly affects them, too. This gives them the incentive to fight for the best contract possible, no matter how difficult management makes it.
The committee will also give regular updates so members have accurate information about what is happening during negotiations so there are no surprises when an agreement is concluded.
While the members of the committee may be the face of negotiations, all members are involved. Collaboration is critical to securing fair contracts.
In early 2023, members of American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1303-85 won a hard-fought contract for employees at the Russell Library in Middletown, Connecticut.
Council 4 staff representative Emily Demicco attributed that success to everyone’s ability to work together. “The team not only showed real unity at the table but worked in partnership with the broader membership to develop shared priorities for negotiations,” Demicco said.
“Their success in achieving a fair contract is a testament to the power of collaboration among co-workers.”
Unions Prepare for Employers’ Attempts to Stall Negotiations
The last thing most employers want is for a new union to secure a favorable contract for workers. That’s why many will delay and draw out contract negotiations.
“Delay is a frequent and effective tool used by employers in first contract bargaining, because the longer the negotiations drag on, the more turnover, fear, and frustration will work to undermine union support,” explains Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research and a senior lecturer at Cornell’s ILR School.
Take Starbucks, for example. After a wave of hundreds of election victories in 2022, “only three unionized stores have actually begun contract negotiations [as of October 2022] and it is unclear when the stores will be settling,” writes Leila Bunker at The Spectator, Seattle University’s student newspaper.
That’s because the company is doing everything it can to demoralize workers enough so they give up on the effort.
The negotiating committee is union members’ first line of defense against employer delay tactics.
It’s the job of the negotiating committee to remain steadfast in negotiating a contract. When members become frustrated by a lack of progress or start growing fearful of company retaliation, committee members can report back what the employer is doing to avoid negotiations.
That’s where a comprehensive communication platform like UnionTrack® ENGAGE® can be particularly useful. Not only can union leaders poll members about issues important to them, but they can also use the tool to share real-time updates and gather immediate feedback from all members about negotiations. This helps ensure the end result are fair contracts that works for everyone.
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