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How to Talk to Employees About Collective Bargaining

Collective Bargaining

Better wages, better benefits, better working conditions — these are just a few of the promises union organizers make during collective bargaining to employees to gain their support during an organizing drive. An employer can’t make the same kinds of lofty claims unless they want to risk an Unfair Labor Practice charge. It’s a little unfair, as the NLRB believes employees understand that an employer has the power to make their promises reality, and a union that’s not yet employees’ legal representative – can’t.

So how can you educate employees on the collective bargaining process without risking a ULP? Here are 7 clear and succinct things you (and front line managers) can do to make sure employees are making an informed choice about unionization.

1. Explain the Process

You might know all the tactics unions use to influence potential members, but your employees don’t. Explain to them about the collecting bargaining process — how unions negotiate with employers about salaries and working conditions. Point out that neither party is under any obligation to reach an agreement, but they do need to act in good faith and attempt to work out the needs and desires of both parties.

2. Be Realistic

Explain to your employees that unions often campaign for higher wages and better working conditions. Sure, union members could end up with more benefits than what they have now. But they could end up with the same. Or less. Campaign promises are just that — promises. And anyone can break a promise.

3. Unions Have Agendas

Employees should know that, while unions might act in good faith, they have their own agenda, and not every item they’re looking for is strictly for the benefit of employees. During collective bargaining, unions will fight for the things that will benefit them,  like a “dues checkoff clause,” which requires an employer to collect member dues and cover the administrative fees associated with union dues. Another item on the union’s agenda may be a “super seniority” clause, written to protect union representatives in the event of a layoff – often promised to those who are part of the volunteer organizing committee.

4. Unions Don’t Have All the Power

A union organizer may tell employees that they’ll tell management what’s what. They might tell employees that the union can manage hiring, firing, shift assignments, overtime, and other personnel issues. But they often neglect to mention the Management Rights clause included in most union contracts. A Management Rights clause says the company – not the union – still has the right to manage the business in the best way possible. A union cannot control a company’s ability to grow, move, or alter the way it does business.

5. There’s No Time Limit

Unions often make it seem like they can effect quick changes — higher wages in a month or two, for example. The truth is, the collective bargaining process has no time limits, and your employees won’t see any changes in the interim.

6. Individual Needs Can Get Lost In The Noise

Unions like to say that in collective bargaining, employees gain a voice in the workplace, that they will have a chance to negotiate for the things that matter to them. But in reality, a small group of union representatives carries out collective bargaining, not employees. A promise of a voice can be misleading. During heated or difficult negotiations, things that matter to individual employees can be lost in all the noise.

7. Collective Bargaining Actually Gives Employees Less Personal Power

Be sure to share that collective bargaining is just that – collective. As in, one solution for the entire bargaining unit. Employees are often surprised to learn that they can no longer go directly to their supervisor or manager to handle their personal needs. A union contract is meant to spell out the rules and everyone must follow them. And like the contract or not, members are expected to pay dues as soon as an agreement is reached.

Educating employees on the process and the realities of collective bargaining is an important part of your obligation as an employer. When you help team members understand the facts, they’re empowered to turn a critical ear to the things they may have heard.

About the author

Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.

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