Negotiating a Contract
Once you have elected a bargaining committee and set up your local operating structure, bargaining begins with the employer. Here is how it works:
1. Getting your concerns into a proposal. Your bargaining team will need to spend a lot of time listening to members’ concerns about their jobs and the ideas they have for improvement. The AFT and its local affiliates typically accomplish this through personal surveys, group meetings and individual discussions. The team then compiles the ideas and begins to set priorities for the bargaining process. Then, a skilled negotiator—together with a bargaining team made up of your colleagues—puts your priorities and concerns into the form of contract proposals. These proposals will be presented to the employer’s negotiating team. With the AFT’s training and the leadership of a skilled negotiator, your bargaining team also will conduct research and develop a sound rationale to convince the board that your proposals are reasonable and worthy of acceptance.
2. Keeping your members informed, involved and mobilized. Your bargaining team will ensure there is two-way communication between the members of the bargaining unit and the bargaining team. In developing the proposals and in fighting for a fair contract, the membership will play an important role.
3. Exchanging proposals with the employer. Your employer will have its own ideas about what your salary should be, what hours you should work, how you should be evaluated and so on. For this reason, your bargaining agent and the employer begin by trading proposals with each other. Each side prepares for bargaining sessions by studying the other’s proposal. Both sides will look for areas of agreement and formulate strategy to seek a compromise where there is disagreement.
4. The give and take of bargaining. Your bargaining team and the board will make counterproposals. For example, your team might have proposed that you be given 10 days of sick leave per year. The employer may counter with five days. Your team must then decide whether it will: (1) stand by its original proposal, (2) accept the employer’s offer, or (3) make its own counterproposal of, say, seven days. Throughout this process, both sides must negotiate in good faith. This means your bargaining team and the employer must try to reach agreements through compromise and cooperation. When no further progress can be made toward an agreement, however, and there are still undecided issues, an impasse is declared. To overcome this obstacle, collective bargaining often provides for impasse resolution.
5. Ratifying your contract. As your bargaining team and the employer agree on issues, these items become part of a tentative agreement. Before this agreement can take effect, however, it must receive your membership’s approval—and typically the approval of a governing body on the employer’s side as well. If the local thinks the contract, taken as a whole, is unacceptable, you can vote to reject it. On the other hand, if the proposed contract is generally favorable, you can vote to ratify it. By voting as a union to ratify the proposal, you and your colleagues give the document the full force of law. You now have a contract—a written explanation of your job responsibilities, salary and benefits, and conditions of your work.