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Many factors should be considered when negotiating a union contract. Negotiating parties on both the management and the union side should have a working knowledge of the business and the bottom line. Consideration should be given to the state of the economy during negotiations and pending legislation that could affect potential wins for each side. An example of such negotiations is the proposed tax on “Cadillac” benefits packages, which are common negotiation tools in union contracts. In tough economic times, unions often negotiate for higher benefit packages when wage increases are at a standstill. Grievance procedures, wage compensation, benefits, health and safety, and hours worked should all be part of the negotiations.
Involve workers from every level in the initial negotiation processes. Meetings with workers before negotiations will ensure that negotiators have a strong understanding of what workers see as the most important inclusions in the contract. The entire premise of a union is that workers are given a say in how the business is run. If you deny that right, you will lose support for the union and may eventually encounter a movement to decertify the union in place.
Address wage issues. Union contracts are generally two years long, though sometimes longer. You will want to include at minimum a cost-of-living increase. If your company is experiencing tough economic times, consider asking the company for revenue sharing. Workers can be paid bonuses for meeting production goals. Remember that in order for everyone to make money, the company must meet its bottom line, as well. Many plants and organizations have closed due to low productivity.
Address benefits issues. Most employees experience increases in premiums on an annual basis. If you can't negotiate for better benefits, perhaps it is possible to negotiate for a freeze on premium increases. Other less talked about benefits include the sick-day banks that ensure no one runs out of sick days in times of need.Those types of benefits are virtually cost free and can help all employees.
Address health and safety issues. OSHA was developed to protect workers from harm, but even with OSHA's help, health and safety issues can still exist. General rules like allowing employees to work 16 hours per day may be OK for some industries, but dangerous for others.
Address hours of work. Employees have real "quality of life" issues when work hours change continually, mandatory overtime is either put in place or taken away, and shifts are changed. The negotiation process needs to end with a clear understanding of the expectations of working hours for all employees.
Companies that aren't making money can't increase wages or benefits. If your workers aren't productive (sometimes called production "slowdown"), chances are that the company eventually will close your facility or move production overseas.
Use your communication skills. Enter negotiations with respect for all parties involved. Don't get lost in the negotiations and forget who you are representing. Meet with workers whenever possible to discuss potential options for the contract.
As an educator, television producer and public relations/human resources professional, Mary Tucker-McLaughlin's work has been broadcast on radio and television with affiliates in the Midwest and the South since 1992. Her work has also been published in the "St. Louis Suburban Journals." Tucker-McLaughlin is an assistant professor in eastern North Carolina with a Ph.D. in mass communications from the University of South Carolina.
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