Collective bargaining is a vital tool for unions looking to implement favorable policies in the workplace. These negotiations and their resulting agreements set working conditions that can be enforced locally, regionally or nationally depending on the union itself.
For smaller or younger unions, understanding the collective bargaining process provides better opportunities to advocate for the changes that will improve working conditions.
Setting the tone
Much of the strength of unions comes from presenting a unified front. In the early stages of collective bargaining, the union must determine which demands they intend to bring to the table and set a priority order.
The workers and union representatives then form a bargaining committee. The bargaining committee establishes the strategies for the upcoming negotiation and begins to draft proposals for each major item.
At the table
The bargaining committee presents its proposals to the employer, who presents counteroffers. At this stage, the employer also provides input on the terms they would like to see in the collective bargaining agreement.
The union’s bargaining committee and the employer trade counteroffers until they come to a satisfactory agreement or they come to an impasse.
Resolving the roadblocks
In any negotiation, the potential for discussion to break down exists. When employers and unions cannot find a middle ground, collective bargaining typically moves into mediation or arbitration. With the help of a neutral third party, the union and the industry can work through their disputes.
In some cases, either party may try to apply pressure to have their proposals accepted. Workers can use strikes to halt operations and compel the employer to agree. From the employer’s side, a lockout can restrict workers’ income and oblige them to accept the terms in order to return to work.
While most collective bargaining negotiations follow this general pattern, the specifics of each process will differ based on the employer, the industry, the size of the union and the nature of each party’s demands.