The process of negotiating a union contract can be time-consuming and stressful for both management and unionized labor.  Negotiations are the process by which management of an employer and union leaders meet to renew a contract that is ending or meet to attempt to resolve a specific dispute.  This negotiation process is also referred to as collective bargaining and often revolves around wages, working conditions, and benefits issues.  However, the process need not be adversarial if both sides have worked to develop good relationships.

Typically, the negotiation process begins prior to the end of a collective bargaining agreement.  Hopefully, both sides have worked to resolve issues since the last contract was negotiated but unfortunately, that is not always the case.  Before the end of the previous contract, the parties set up meetings to meet and try and modify the agreement until both sides are happy with the results.  Then the contract is offered for a vote to the union membership.  The membership then votes to approve or not approve.  If the contract is not approved, then the parties return to the bargaining table.  And unfortunately, if a new agreement is not reached prior to the previous contract ending then worked may opt to go on strike or extend the previous contract.

Negotiations for both sides should begin by getting a group organized that will sit for the negotiations.  Once this group is organized the first step should be to review previous negotiations.  This allows all members of the negotiating team to study the arguments made by either side and to be prepared for arguments the other side will make.  This will allow the group to review what went right and what went wrong in past negotiations, possible tactics that can be used, and concessions and gains that were made.  The group should also review what impact previous agreements had on management and labor.

Next, both sides should develop their strategies for negotiating.  This should start by reviewing who is on the other side of the negotiations.  Personalities are a big deal in negotiating contracts.  Both sides should review whether the same parties are coming to the table for negotiations as in previous negotiations.  Understanding these personalities and what they are fighting for in a negotiation is crucial to creating a strategy for negotiations.

Once negotiations start, both sides need to come to the bargaining table with patience and understanding.  The negotiation process can take a few meetings or several months, depending on how complicated the issues involved are.  After the negotiations are completed and both sides are happy with the contract, it is either ratified by the union employees or rejected.  If the contract is rejected, then both parties return to the table for further negotiations.  Both sides should have to goal to avoid a strike situation which is bad for both union membership and management.

The key to handling the union negotiation process is to develop and maintain relationships between management and unionized leadership on an ongoing basis.  When preparing for a specific negotiation, both sides should create a core group of leaders who are going to handle negotiations, develop a strategy, review the personalities involved and then enter into negotiations with patience.  An essential item to remember is that these same groups will likely be coming to the table again in the near future.

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