Collective Bargaining 1: Historical Models of Collective Bargaining in the U.S. - Page 7

Development of appropriate bargaining structures

Development of appropriate bargaining structures

In addition to worker organization, a union must also develop a bargaining structure that allows the union to eliminate wage competition. Normally, this will require some concentration of power within the union to assure that weak locals or national unions do not undermine strong ones. The GE strategy, above, illustrates the problems resulting from a lack of coordination. Some of the most common bargaining structures in the United States are discussed in this section.

  1. Scope of bargaining units
    1. Single plant/single union agreements
      In some locations, a local union still bargains with a single employer directly, leading to a collective bargaining agreement covering a single facility. While this structure is quite common, a local union in this bargaining position is apt to be guided by a need to remain a part of a pattern within the relevant industry. Many small auto parts suppliers (and some large ones) are examples of this mode.
    2. Corporate-wide agreements
      With large producers in a single industry, a typical bargaining structure involves a national union negotiating a master contract covering all organized plants and local unions negotiating supplements to that national agreement. This is the bargaining structure between the UAW and each of the Big Three automobile manufacturers.
    3. Industry-wide agreements
      In industries characterized by a large number of relatively small producers and a single large union, a multi-employer, industry-wide bargaining structure is common. For example, the United Mine Workers negotiate a single contract covering numerous independent coal mine operators that are part of the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. Another example of this structure is the Master Freight Agreement negotiated between the Teamsters and part of the trucking industry.
    4. Area-wide agreements
      Craft unions often negotiate a single agreement covering all employers of that craft in a local labor market. This is similar to industry-wide bargaining, except on a more limited geographical basis. The IBEW and local Electrical Contractors Associations bargain under this structure.
  2. Bargaining patterns beyond the unit
    Irrespective of the formal bargaining structure, the elimination of wage competition in bargaining requires that a union look beyond the specific contract to determine an appropriate strategy. It is also necessary to eliminate wage competition among different employers within the same industry.
    1. Pattern bargaining
      In any structural approach to bargaining, there is a strong likelihood that the terms of any specific contract will be influenced by a broader pattern. For example, while the UAW/GM contract is a corporation-side agreement, it is also part of an auto industry pattern. Local agreements between a single union and single plant in the supplier industry may also be negotiated in a manner consistent with the auto industry pattern.
    2. Coordinated bargaining
      If the various plants of a single corporation bargain with different unions, the unions may attempt to keep terms relatively consistent in order to establish a pattern. This is done through the exchange of information, bringing contract expiration dates closer in line with each other, and coordination of strategies among the various unions involved. In the AFL-CIO, the Industrial Union Department collects data and provides assistance to unions involved with a large number of highly diversified corporations.
    3. Coalition bargaining
      When more than one union represents different units of the same company, it may be desirable for those unions to actually sit together in their separate negotiations with that employer. In response to Boulwareism, eight national unions negotiating local agreements with GE sent observers to sit in on individual negotiations with the company.
      With any identified bargaining structure, a constant problem for unions is that corporate structures can change much more rapidly than bargaining structures. It is important for union bargaining structures to remain sufficiently flexible to respond to corporate merger, diversification and conglomeration activities and changing investment strategies.