Collective Bargaining 4: The Bargaining Climate
While the list of potential union goals in bargaining is unlimited historically, it has been suggested that management has a much shorter bargaining agenda. More willing to live with the status quo, in more recent years, it has become common for employers to approach the bargaining process with detailed proposals covering the breadth of a traditional union bargaining agenda, the fundamental goals of most employers remain relatively narrow.
Control of the means, methods and modes of operation
Under capitalism, as it operates in the United States, it is often assumed that ownership carries with it the right to control all aspects of the workplace, from the fundamental questions of when, where and whether to invest to the details of individual job performance at the point of production. The question of control is so central to employer goals that the basic obligation to negotiate with a union concerning terms and conditions of employment may be regarded in some quarters as a serious erosion of the rights of ownership. As a result, bargaining goals of a particular employer are likely to be consistent with the strategy of conceding as little control to the union and workers as is possible. Some specific examples of management bargaining goals that directly reflect the central position of control in a bargaining agenda include:
- Contractual management rights clauses
Management rights provisions may be either detailed listing of specific aspects of workplace control that are retained by management, or they may be reflections of the residual theory of management rights. Under such a theory, management retains all rights that are not specifically limited by other provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.
- Zipper clauses
These are agreements foreclosing mid-term bargaining over items not specifically addressed in the collective bargaining agreement. Often, the effect of a zipper clause is to give to management the unilateral right to implement changes in terms and conditions of employment if the contract is silent with respect to such conditions.
Industrial peace and stability
The no-strike clause of a collective bargaining agreement symbolizes a second fundamental goal of the employer in the bargaining process, industrial peace, and stability. It is the threat of potential disruption of production that often brings an employer to the bargaining table. The combination of a management rights clause, a fixed-term agreement and a no-strike pledge from the union provides such stability to the employer. A collective bargaining agreement may also reflect the price of industrial peace, which benefits all the parties. An employer may be willing to pay a premium in wages and benefits if that premium provides stability and a reasonable level of managerial control.
The right to say “no”
Beyond the management rights and no-strike issue, much of traditional management bargaining strategy is to be reactive. A strategy of conceding as little as possible to the union in exchange for control and industrial peace. Although in recent decades, many management negotiators have come to the bargaining table with comprehensive packages of proposals, these are often consistent with the traditional reaction to union initiatives and associations. Whether management waits for union proposals and attempts to limit its concessions or comes to the table with pre-conceived counterproposals, the goal is often the same — retention of control and assurance of stability at the most acceptable price to the employer.