Collective Bargaining with Unions - The Strategy
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Collective bargaining refers to the process in which employers and trade unions representing the working people negotiate contracts to determine the employee’s terms of employment, including benefits, pay, work hours, job health, leave, safety strategies, methods to bring a balance between work and family, and more. Thus, collective bargaining can be considered as a tool that can be used to end disagreements and ensure that things proceed normally in the business. Such bargaining can occur either in periodic or continuous forms, and aim to make things better for both the employee and the employer. Improving the overall conditions at the workplace and initiating social changes are some other objectives that collective bargaining may address. Employers often use it as a way to solve workplace problems.

Here are some tips to formulate an effective collective bargaining strategy with the unions:

• Select the “form” of bargaining: Irrespective of whether you are opting for multi-employer or single-employer groups, you should consider your form of bargaining at the earliest. Analyzing the terms of any past agreement, or whether you are bound by whatever the unions negotiate are important factors to be considered. Simple steps like enhanced bargaining powers by benefiting from the strength in numbers, selecting negotiators who have the trust of employees, opting for carefully orchestrated coordinated bargaining etc are some strategies that can help you wield an upper hand. 

• Establishing your Labor Relations Policy: Your company should have a clear labor relations policy and your collective bargaining strategy should be in tune with it.

• Foresee union demands: Anticipating what the unions will demand and how you will tackle the issues/demands will go a long way in successful negotiations. You can gather some current trade journals and other publication materials related to your industry to support the arguments that you plan to make at the bargaining table with respect to changes in terms of employment or wages etc. It will also help to determine strike issues and recognize needed relief areas to show that you are concerned about your workforce and want to give them an environment that fosters growth and stability. Foreseeing the union’s demands and preparing ahead of the D-Day will help you put forward your opinions and views strongly and firmly.  

• Set up your “end” position:  You should consider business forecasts and analyze your present business status to establish an “end” position. Ask yourself whether you can you afford to give in to the union’s demands one more time without affecting your business adversely. Also, check if you have lost your competitiveness due to specific provisions, like daily overtime, and whether earlier contracts need significant changes to be incorporated, as you anticipate the business scenario to change, which in turn demands changes in your bargaining agreements for merger/sale/ expansion etc.

• Selecting a bargaining team: Write down the goals that you want your collective bargaining strategy to achieve. Next, select a bargaining team, get inputs from the management, and plan the principal negotiator’s “Bargaining Book” which would include a model agreement and position statement. Use bargaining logistics, draw upon recent developments/statistics/trends etc. to condition the bargaining team to ensure success. 

Collective bargaining offers substantial scope for mutual gains for both the employees and the employers, and is an effective alternative to workplace relationships that have been hindered and industrial chaos. No wonder that an increasing number of employers all over the world are supporting it. 


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