What is Union Negotiation?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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Union negotiation is the process of a labor union getting together with the administration of a particular company or organization and attempting to get a labor contract or dispute resolved. Though union negotiations receive a great deal of media attention when there are problems, the vast majority of contracts are approved without ever drawing the attention of the general public. The union negotiation process, or collective bargaining as it is also known, deals with issues such as wages, hours, and working conditions.

The union negotiation process usually begins with an initial proposal, which may be offered by one or both sides. This may be submitted before the actual first meeting in the collective bargaining process, or may be part of that initial presentation. The two sides often do not make a decision at this time, but could do so if the issues are relatively minor. Through subsequent meetings, the contract will be modified until both sides find it acceptable, or until the union leadership decides to put the offered contract to a vote of its membership.

The vote of the membership may represent the final phase of a union negotiation, if the contract is approved. If it is not approved, the union leadership will go back to the company and continue the negotiation process after receiving proper feedback. If the previous contract expires before this happens, the workers may opt to go on strike, or may ask the company to temporarily extend the terms of the previous contract.


One of the primary things the union negotiation process determines is salary. This will include helping determine hourly rates, bonuses, and any benefits, such as health insurance and life insurance. Union jobs often have a complex pay scale, based on years of experience, time spent doing a particular job, shift differentials, and other factors. This factor is also one of the toughest that both sides must agree upon.

Hours are another subject determined through the union negotiation process. Though most full-time employees work 40 hours a week, other factors, such as meals and breaks, may be part of the negotiations. Further, the availability of overtime, who has the right to work or refuse that overtime, may also be part of the discussions over work hours.

Working conditions are another major portion of union negotiations. This may include not only physical conditions that make working unsafe or unpleasant, but also the grievance process, and how relationships between employees and superiors should be handled. Though many people do not often consider this a major point of contention when going into a union negotiation, it has the potential to be a big issue if the problems are perceived to be serious by union membership.


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