April 18, 2023
Understanding Collective Bargaining

By UAW Region 8 Webmaster John Davis

According to the AFL-CIO, “Collective bargaining is the process in which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health and safety policies, ways to balance work and family, and more.”

Within the UAW, there is always some sector working on collective bargaining. This fall, the major automaker’s contract will expire and be renewed through collective bargaining. While all contracts are important, the automotive contracts garner more media coverage than others with the public taking an interest in those negotiations.

Sometimes, we assume that everyone understands all the terminology and the process of bargaining. This has led to some misconceptions about the process and outcome. This information is intended to give a brief overview of the bargaining process.

A union contract is a legal document agreed upon by two sides, the representative of the employees (in our case the UAW) and the company who employees those workers. We often forget the company is an equal partner in the bargaining process and some of the things included in a contract are things the company wants.

Each sector of our union has “sub councils” which are made up of the bargaining representatives for members within that sector. As the expiration of a contract approaches, the sub council will elect a top committee to be the negotiators of the next contract. The International Executive Board representative for that sector will lead negotiations with the company.

The UAW is a totally democratic union, with the membership being the highest authority. The bargaining process will begin with members submitting resolutions to be considered for bargaining. These include suggestions on wages, benefits and work rules. Delegates elected by each local union then participate in the bargaining convention, where the resolutions are debated and voted on, with those that pass being added to the resolutions group the top committees take into bargaining.

When it’s time to begin bargaining, affected UAW locals will hold a strike vote. This allows the top committee to call for a strike if they think it’s necessary.¬† It is important to remember, striking is a last resort and something we don’t want to happen unless we are left with no choice. As union members, we WANT to work every day to provide for our families.

The two parties enter into bargaining with goals. Collective bargaining is the process of give and take to allow both sides to achieve their goals. From the union standpoint, we want competitive wages that allow our members a standard of living they deserve. We want benefits that protect the worker and their family, including health care, retirement options and personal growth (training programs and personal enrichment). Lastly, we need job security for our members through product placement for the future to insure there is available work.

The companies have goals as well. They want to produce goods/services with the lowest cost possible. Through collective bargaining, agreements can be made that allow fair compensation and lower cost through improvements in processes.

Bargaining is a complex issue that requires projections for sales throughout the life of a contract and an estimate on the profit that will produce. The two sides work to come to an agreement on what the contract will cost. The contract cost could be called “the pie” with the remainder of the negotiations being spent on agreeing to how that pie is distributed.

Bringing a contract to the membership to vote on serves more than one purpose. If the union feels the contract meets the needs of the membership, then they can ask the members to vote on the agreement to end the process. Sometimes the companies can take an approach where they are unwilling to bargain. If that happens, a contract may be presented to the membership for a vote to judge what the desires of the membership are.

An impasse in bargaining can be addressed by striking or giving the membership a chance to vote on an offer to see what their wishes are. The idea is to use the leverage you have to ensure the best contract possible for our members. Once a contract is ratified by the membership, the parties sign, making it a legally binding document throughout the life of the agreement.

Union members have that collective voice with their employers that non-union members don’t have. It is solidarity that makes the difference. According to the Department of Labor, the average union member makes $1.3 million more over the course of a career than a non-union member in the same industry. Collective bargaining is a complex process with many steps, but through solidarity it has built the middle class in this country.





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