Respect on the job.
A voice at work.
Accountability and transparency.
Unions are about a simple proposition: By joining together, working women and men gain strength in numbers so we can have a voice at work about issues we care about. Our union bargaining team negotiates a contract with our employer for things like a fair and safe workplace, better wages, and family-friendly policies such as paid sick leave, vacations, and work schedules. It doesn’t mean we get everything we want, but collective bargaining is a key tool we can use that gives us a voice in how our jobs get done, creates a more stable, productive workforce that provides better services to our students.
If you work without a collective bargaining agreement then the power of the situation rests with your employer. People can be hired because they are friends or family, or fired because the supervisor just doesn’t like them. Some employees may get extra vacation because the supervisor likes them better than you. Employers can give out raises or bonuses based on how attractive you are. Some employees get better equipment than you because they are perceived to be a better employee. Having a union contract makes sure that all employees are treated fairly, that everyone knows how situations will be handled, and ensures due process for employees.
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, due process, job health and safety policies, ways to balance work and family, and more. Collective bargaining is a way to solve workplace problems with our employers and to ensure accountability and transparency.
The local union leadership and bargaining team talks with members to determine issues that are happening in the workplace, researches the employer’s budget, and develops proposals to bring when they meet with management during collective bargaining. The union presents proposals, the administration presents proposals, and the two sides negotiate back and forth until a tentative agreement is reached. The local union membership then has an opportunity to discuss the proposed agreement and vote to accept or reject it as presented. The administration also will discuss it with the district/college/university governing body who will also vote on the contract. If both sides agree, a contract is signed and it will be the guiding document for the term of the contract.
Enforcing the Contract
A collective bargaining agreement is a document that details how various employment details will be handled. I may contain a pay scale which details how much various employees will be paid based on a variety of factors like how long they have been employed, the level of education achieved, how many hours they work or classes they teach. It may lay out what happens if there is a job opening – who gets notified, who has first chance to apply, etc. Contracts also help us support our students by explicitly stating the maximum number of students that may be placed in a single classroom, although provisions like this have recently been limited by legislative action. The contract details the due process rights of the employee and employer if a situation arises that may lead to a disciplinary action. All of this and more is set out in the contract agreed to by the union and management.
Sometimes issues arise because someone is not following the contract or thinks it doesn’t apply to a particular situation. In those cases the union and employer will attempt to resolve the issue by first looking at the contract language, and if they can’t agree, by going to arbitration. Arbitration is a process where a neutral third-party looks at the contract and the facts of the situation and makes a decision about how to resolve the problem.