Collective Bargaining 2: Behavioral Factors Influencing Union Bargaining Power
Membership support of and involvement in the bargaining process
Economic security and workplace representation are important goals of the union in the bargaining process. However, one factor that separates the union-represented workplace from the non-union environment is voice. Union represented workers have a right to be heard. For a union to build membership support of the bargaining goals of the local, one of the easiest concrete steps to take is to assure that the voice of the membership is heard.
The bargaining process should include a viable method for membership participation in the definition of goals, objectives and priorities of the local in preparation for bargaining. Although the demands of the union in bargaining should be realistic and attainable, they should also be built on a foundation of membership concerns. Although membership concerns should be reflected in all stages of bargaining, there are four specific aspects of the bargaining process where membership relations may be most critical.
- Formulation of demands
The first level of involvement of the members is in the establishment of goals, objectives and priorities. Locals use a variety of strategies for assuring that members have a voice in the identification of potential bargaining subjects. It is the experience of the members under the existing contract that defines many of the problems that are to be addressed in bargaining. Membership involvement in formulating demands may be formal or informal, but there should be mechanisms in place for those concerns to be raised. There may be institutional goals of the union that do not appear to the membership to be major priorities but are directly related to union bargaining power. A common example is the expiration date of the agreement. If a local is attempting to bargain under an industry pattern, common expiration dates of the various contracts is an important element. Similarly, the relationship between contract expiration and the regular business cycle of the employer may make the expiration date of the agreement a more important issue than many members will understand. This demands some interaction between the leadership and membership. If there are institutional goals, to the extent possible the local will want to educate the membership on their importance to other issues that are on the table and in the minds of the members.
- Involvement of members in constitution of the committee
Some bargaining committees are elected while others are appointed. There is no automatic advantage to either method for the constitution of a committee. However, irrespective of the type of committee exists in a local union, members will be more likely to support the bargaining agenda of the local if they have had an opportunity for a voice in the process. A bargaining committee should be more than representative of the membership, it should be seen by the members as representative. Appearances and reality are not always the same.
- Keeping members informed while keeping negotiations private
The actual bargaining sessions between the company and the union are generally kept in private for legitimate reasons. However, this privacy may, without effective internal communications, create the appearance of detachment from the membership. There is a delicate balance to be reached between the goal of meaningful bargaining sessions and effective communications with the members. In general, the specific progress of bargaining should not be widely publicized, except at times of crisis in bargaining. However, the general status of bargaining will be of great interest to the members. If it becomes necessary to mobilize membership action in times of crisis bargaining, that mobilization should not be a surprise.
- Ratification or other support of the agreement reached
How a union ratifies an agreement reached with the company is a matter of internal union policy. No matter what mechanism is in place for final acceptance of the agreement, formal or informal acceptance by the membership will be an important starting point for the next round of negotiations. The process of negotiating one contract begins as soon as the previous agreement is accepted.