If you’ve ever served on a Bargaining Committee, you know that winning a strong contract is often a challenge. Likewise, if you’ve ever organized a union in your workplace, you know that winning a union is tough.
When workers win their union election, that’s only the first step to having a voice on the job. After workers win their election, the process of bargaining a first contract begins. That’s where we have the opportunity to negotiate terms and conditions of employment – everything from wages, health care, and pension to paid time off, breaks, and job bidding. What we’re able to achieve in a first contract is the foundation of future agreements.
Time and again during contract campaigns, we’re forced to fight in order to win. Many people unfamiliar with the bargaining process mistakenly believe this false notion that two sides sit down at the table, the union makes its demands, and the company cowers and gives in.
But, we know that’s not really how it works. Negotiating a contract takes planning, hours and hours of discussion, number crunching, and compromise. Each side must seriously consider the others’ proposals. In some cases, union members must decide between accepting a proposal that isn’t quite what we wanted, or taking a strike vote. Representatives from the Union and the Company sign the contract; both sides agree on its contents.
First contracts, and other agreements, can be one of our greatest tools when workers choose whether to form a union. Union contracts are rarely perfect; we often don’t win everything we hoped we would. But union contracts are real and they’re powerful. That’s why companies fight so hard to keep workers from having a union contract. While employers often profess that laws are sufficient protection or that they have an “open door policy” that allows workers to give their input, our collective bargaining agreements are guarantees. Contracts may only be changed through negotiations, not because a supervisor feels like playing by his or her own rules.
Our collective bargaining agreements are also powerful tools for growing and strengthening our union. They’re proof of the difference a union can make. Sometimes it’s hard for nonunion workers to believe that they will have guaranteed wages and benefits if they organize. Other workers may be skeptical that they have real recourse through a grievance procedure if disciplined unjustly. But, we can use agreements from similar companies to show workers what is possible with the protection of a contract.
Bargaining strong contracts helps grow our union; and growing our union gives us more power to bargain stronger contracts. Together, we’re moving forward every day.