Research agenda

Research agenda

Early in the bargaining process, a local union may want to develop a research agenda to gather data useful in negotiations. Although research methods are beyond the scope of this paper, there are some broad guidelines concerning types and sources of data that can be outlined. Generally, a union will want information in three broad categories,

  1. including information about the industry and employer involved,
  2. information useful in support of wage and benefit demands of the union,
  3. and information available from the company relevant to other issues in dispute. Many useful resources are available to the public at major research libraries.

Do not just ‘google it,’ developing a relationship with a research librarian and government documents librarian at the nearest public university library is always a good first step in the preparation of a research agenda. Increasingly, data is available on the Internet that is reliable and useful in preparation for negotiations. Putting members to work who have ideas and want to become involved, who are frequently on the Internet, not social media, is a good way to build broader participation in the process of preparing for negotiations while expanding the memberships engagement in the process.

Industry and employer profiles

As discussed elsewhere, the relative economic health of the employer is relevant to union bargaining power. There are a variety of decent resources available that are useful to a union in the building of profiles on the industry in which their members work and the specific employer with which bargaining is taking place. If the company is publicly traded the AFL-CIO and many international unions keep detailed records on many employers and industries. In addition, investor services, such as Moody's and Standard and Poors, are a good source of general financial information about specific publicly held corporations. Securities and Exchange Commission reports and some state records are often available as public information, usually at a price. The Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau are also good sources of information concerning specific industry trends. Information on public employers is often available through public documents and/or open records laws. Privately held, non-publicly traded, companies are more difficult to gather information on, which means you need to start sooner since the sourcing for information is not going to be as prescriptive as with publicly trades companies.

Wage and benefit data

In determining the adequacy of their wages and benefits, many workers will look for comparability with other similarly situated workers. Wage and benefit comparisons are valuable tools for the justification of economic demands. Generally, two types of wage comparability data are relevant in the preparation for negotiations. One is comparability within the industry and the other is comparability in the geographic region. Extensive data are available through the U.S. Department of Labor and the Census Bureau for both industry and geographic comparisons. Industry comparisons may also be extracted from pattern agreements, usually available through other unions negotiating with employers engaged in the same industry. A third issue in determining wage proposals will be the impact of inflation. Cost-of-living data is available through the Consumer Price Indexes of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Some forms of information relevant to benefit costs may be available through state health or insurance departments. In many states, health departments track medical costs. This information can be useful in determining the reasonableness of cost and benefit issues under a negotiated health care plan.

If you are not already tracking who is leaving, why they are leaving, where they are going to work and how the wages hours and working conditions there differ, start. This kind of information is the best example(s) of how the truly comparable employers stack up against yours.

Access to employer records

Many records of the company are also relevant to the union in the process of preparing for bargaining. As a rule, the union is entitled to access to company records, other than financial records, if those records are relevant to a bargaining issue in dispute. This is a primary source of information concerning matters directly related to the bargaining unit and issues on the table in negotiations. You may have to ask (make a demand) for the information. They are not going to give it to you as a courtesy.