The bargaining climate

In developing the bargaining goals and strategies of a local union, it is important to remember that not all relationships with employers are equal. The attitude of a particular employer toward the union and the obligation to bargain may range from the very positive to one approaching industrial warfare. Care should be taken not to generalize about the specific objectives of a particular employer based on overall trends. It is local and it’s personal (relationships) at stake with everyone proposal or demand. It is far more important for the local union to have a clear understanding of how the specific employer regards its obligations in the bargaining process.

Some bargaining situations may be accurately described as open warfare where the employer has yet to concede even the right of the union to exist let alone any right to a voice in the determination of terms and conditions of bargaining. Sometimes, this battlefield mentality is open and apparent, while in other situations the warfare may be subterraneous. Strategies for bargaining in a climate of open hostility are clearly different than will be found in more constructive relationships.

At the other extreme, many relationships have achieved relatively high levels of harmony between labor and management. This may be a matter of mutual toleration where the parties have begrudgingly accepted the right of their adversaries to exist. Many have found that a CBA provides a structure way of dealing with workforce issues on a predictable, or known, schedule that is mutually beneficial for the parties. In such a climate, the parties are likely to enter negotiations with an intent to reach agreement, but the process of getting to such an agreement may be defensive and tentative. In other situations, real labor peace may break out with management accepting both the existence of the union and the right of that union to have a voice in the means, methods, and modes of operating the business.

In all cases, bargaining relationships are dynamic. A relationship that is harmonious today could end up being characterized by warfare tomorrow, or vice versa. The challenge for the local is to develop a thorough assessment of the relationship as it exists in the current situation and a strategy for moving that relationship in a desirable direction.