You are here

The Process of Collective Bargaining

19 January, 2016 - 15:28

In any bargaining agreement, certain management rights are not negotiable, including the right to manage and operate the business, hire, promote, or discharge employees. However, in the negotiated agreement there may be a process outlined by the union for how these processes should work. Management rights also include the ability of the organization to direct the work of the employees and to establish operational policies. As an HR professional sits at the bargaining table, it is important to be strategic in the process and tie the strategic plan with the concessions the organization is willing to make and the concessions the organization will not make.

Another important point in the collective bargaining process is the aspect of union security. Obviously, it is in the union’s best interest to collect dues from members and recruit as many new members as possible. In the contract, a checkoff provision may be negotiated. This provision occurs when the employer, on behalf of the union, automatically deducts dues from union members’ paychecks. This ensures that a steady stream of dues is paid to the union.

To recruit new members, the union may require something called a union shop. Aunion shop requires a person to join the union within a certain time period of joining the organization. In right-to-work states a union shop may be illegal. Twenty-two states have passed right-to-work laws, as you can see in Figure 12.5. These laws prohibit a requirement to join a union or pay dues and fees to a union. To get around these laws, agency shops were created. An agency shop is similar to a union shop in that workers do not have to join the union but still must pay union dues. Agency shop union fees are known as agency fees and may be illegal in right-to-work states. A closed shop used to be a mechanism for a steady flow of membership. In this arrangement, a person must be a union member to be hired. This, however, was made illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act. According to a study by CNBC, all twenty-two right-to-work states are in the top twenty-five states for having the best workforces. 1 However, according to the AFL-CIO, the average worker in a right-to-work state makes $5,333 less per year than other workers.  2

Figure 12.5 Map of Right-to-Work States 

In a collective bargaining process, both parties are legally bound to bargain in good faith. This means they have a mutual obligation to participate actively in the deliberations and indicate a desire to find a basis for agreement. There are three main classification of bargaining topics: mandatory, permissive, and illegal. Wages, health and safety, management rights, work conditions, and benefits fall into the mandatory category. Permissive topics are those that are not required but may be brought up during the process. An example might include the requirement of drug testing for candidates or the required tools that must be provided to the employee to perform the job, such as a cellular phone or computer. It is important to note that while management is not required by labor laws to bargain on these issues, refusing to do so could affect employee morale. We can also classify bargaining issues as illegal topics, which obviously cannot be discussed. These types of illegal issues may be of a discriminatory nature or anything that would be considered illegal outside the agreement.

Examples of Bargaining Topics

  • Pay rate and structure
  • Health benefits
  • Incentive programs
  • Job classification
  • Performance assessment procedure
  • Vacation time and sick leave
  • Health plans
  • Layoff procedures
  • Seniority
  • Training process
  • Severance pay
  • Tools provided to employees
  • Process for new applicants
Figure 12.6 Steps in Collective Bargaining 

The collective bargaining process has five main steps; we will discuss each of these steps next. The first step is the preparation of both parties. The negotiation team should consist of individuals with knowledge of the organization and the skills to be an effective negotiator. An understanding of the working conditions and dissatisfaction with working conditions is an important part of this preparation step. Establishing objectives for the negotiation and reviewing the old contract are key components to this step. The management team should also prepare and anticipate union demands, to better prepare for compromises.

The second step of the process involves both parties agreeing on how the time lines will be set for the negotiations. In addition, setting ground rules for how the negotiation will occur is an important step, as it lays the foundation for the work to come.

In the third step, each party comes to the table with proposals. It will likely involve initial opening statements and options that exist to resolve any situations that exist. The key to a successful proposal is to come to the table with a “let’s make this work” attitude. An initial discussion is had and then each party generally goes back to determine which requests it can honor and which it can’t. At this point, another meeting is generally set up to continue further discussion.

Once the group comes to an agreement or settlement (which may take many months and proposals), a new contract is written and the union members vote on whether to accept the agreement. If the union doesn’t agree, then the process begins all over again.