Collective Bargaining: Bargaining Techniques

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In this section, some of the major techniques and tactics relevant to the actual bargaining sessions with management are discussed. There is no formula for effective negotiations, but there are many broad issues about which the union bargaining committee should be in agreement with respect to meetings with the management committee.

Control of the agenda

Collective bargaining is a matter of power. Power relationships within or between organizations are more than matters of economic position, they are often determined by behavioral or psychological factors. Some understanding of how power is exercised is critical to the union's preparation for bargaining.

Power is in part a function of equality and authority. If one person concedes authority to another, the first person has given the second a source of power. In bargaining, the union has the right and responsibility to deal with the representatives of the employer as equals. While the typical workplace is built on principles of authority and subordination, the bargaining process is not. When union members leave the shop floor to negotiate with the company, they are no longer in a position of subordination to the managerial authority of the employer.

Control of the agenda is an exercise of power. In bargaining sessions with the employer's representatives, the union must not concede control of the agenda to the employer. Control of bargaining sessions may be either explicit or implicit, and the union committee should take care not to lose such control either way. One concrete method for maintaining control of the agenda is to make sure that the union speaks through a single, primary spokesperson. Focusing union power through a single point transmits the appearance of control and power.

How the union organizes its internal work can consolidate or undermine its position of power with respect to the employer. Although there should be a single, primary spokesperson, all work of the committee should be distributed among the committee members in an equitable and rational manner. No power is derived from the presence of someone without responsibility.

The appearance of power is power. If there is internal conflict among members of the union bargaining committee, the sources of that conflict should be dealt with away from the bargaining table. The sessions with management should reflect a unified union position. Do not attempt to resolve internal conflict in the presence of management, but always look for signs indicating a lack of unity on the management committee.

Internal procedures for calling caucuses, reviewing proposals, reaching tentative agreement and communicating among committee members should be resolved prior to the first meeting with the management committee. Each phase of bargaining should be handled in a manner that conveys to the management committee a sense that the union committee is well-organized, unified and participatory.


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