When labor and management meet at the bargaining table, they provide each other with a written summary of their proposals for changes to the existing collective bargaining agreement. Crafting this document is an exercise in democracy, teamwork, and diplomacy. Your union proposals should be clear and concise, based on solid research and consensus-building, and should be devoid of any editorialization. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for negotiations.
Set up your proposal's document to mirror the layout of your collective bargaining agreement, including each clause heading, such as “Article 1 – Union Recognition, Article 2 – Union Security . . .” and so on. Include each major clause heading, but nothing else at this point. Leave a few spaces between each heading.
Conduct Due Diligence
Analyze the current contract and the history of negotiations, especially the most recent, including each side’s demands and the actual outcome of those negotiations. Review the current situation in your own shop, especially the grievance files and member complaints. Find out what other employers in similar facilities in your area are paying, as well as other pertinent information about them – do they offer free parking? Subsidized mass transit? Tuition reimbursement? Paid parental leave? Also review recently negotiated CBAs in your area that are relevant to your negotiations – your business agent can help with this. Involve your membership early, solicit their input and keep them advised and informed in regular meetings.
Generate the actual proposals with your negotiating team. This can be tricky for economic issues, because you should start by asking for more than you reasonably think you’ll get, but not unrealistically more. When formulating your economic proposals – wages, time off, fringe benefits, etc. – leave yourself some negotiating room without setting your opening proposals unrealistically high. Other proposals can be more specific. For example, if you’re requesting a break room with a refrigerator and microwave, you wouldn’t start out demanding three refrigerators and four microwaves.
Keep the written proposals as simple as possible. If you want to leave a clause unchanged, write “no change” under the clause header for your own reference. Where you seek changes, note the specific subclause if its appropriate. For instance, your proposals may include “Article 5 - Grievance Procedure - Section C, Step 2: change 'five days' to 'five working days'." Likewise, your wage increase proposal might read: “Article 6 - Wages - 1/1/15: 5 percent increase; 1/1/16 5 percent increase; 1/1/17 5 percent increase.” There’s no need to write an explanation or justification. Your break room proposal might read, “Article 15 - Work Week: Section B, Breaks: Add new clause: Break Room: Management will provide a break room with a microwave oven, a full-size refrigerator and sufficient tables and seating.” It’s not necessary to include precise contract language in your proposals, but complete sentences are preferable, especially in the non-economic proposals. At this point, some negotiators eliminate from the document all clauses for which no changes are proposed, so that all it includes only the clauses the union wants to negotiate.
Review and Finalize
Before you deliver your proposals to management’s chief negotiator, meet again with your members for one last review and approval of the proposals, especially if they’ve undergone some modifications during the formulation process. If members think you’re going to demand a 10 percent wage increase, for example, and then hear in scuttlebutt that you started out demanding 6 percent, they may feel angry and betrayed. If you did alter any proposals, be prepared to explain why you changed them. Management knows when your membership is disgruntled or disunited and will use it against you.