Nov. 5: What is Collective Bargaining?

Over the past month, a number of colleagues have reached out with basic questions about the process of collective bargaining. A full series of questions and answers remain available on our Frequently Asked Questions page, and a few specific to the topic of collective bargaining are summarized below.

How does collective bargaining work?

If the union wins an election and becomes legally certified by the NLRB, it becomes the exclusive agent of all employees in that bargaining unit. The next step would be to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the college. Each side would pick their own team to negotiate. The parties are required to meet at reasonable times and places to reach an agreement. They are required to negotiate over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. They are not required to agree to any particular proposal, however, or make any particular concession.

Can the college make proposals for change in the negotiations?

Yes. The college is free, like the union, to propose changes from the current level of compensation, benefits, and working conditions.

The union has made many promises about improving my employment. But, can it guarantee those changes?

No. The union may promise anything, but it cannot guarantee any of those promises. The law does not require either party to agree to any particular proposal or make any particular concession.

How long does it take to negotiate a first contract with a union?

Usually, first contracts take at least a year to negotiate, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, depending on how complex the issues are or how much conflict there may be over specific issues or proposals.

What happens during that year or so?

The college would be restricted from making unilateral changes to wages, hours, or working conditions unless it negotiates such changes with the union or unless the changes are consistent with past practice. In some circumstances, this could delay some future pay increases, shifts in benefits, and/or changes to working conditions until the contract is completed.

What can I expect out of the negotiations? Does joining a union guarantee higher wages?

There would certainly be parts of any contract dealing with wages and benefits, work duties, grievances, and other areas of working conditions. But truly, no one can say for sure what the parties might negotiate. It is fair to say that you could end up with more than you have now in some areas, exactly the same as you have now, or less than you have now in some areas.

I’ve heard that the union will be able to change many things about Bates beyond just my pay and hours. Is that true?

If the union is elected, federal law only requires that the union and Bates bargain in the following areas: “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” Many areas of interest, such as the development of college policies, college governance and organizational issues, student issues, committee participation, or departmental leadership, are all topics where there is no obligation for the union or the college to negotiate.

Could Bates make exceptions to parts of the contract to accommodate the individual needs of employees?

Unless such exceptions are allowed for in the labor contract and agreed to by the union, exceptions are not permitted.

How will the union represent me in negotiations? Who will speak for me?

It will be up to the SEIU to decide who serves in union leadership, who joins the negotiating team, and how it collects feedback from members.