Most supervisors are not directly involved in negotiating the basic labor-management contract. The negotiating team is normally comprised of a small group of management officials. Although most supervisors may never serve on a negotiating team, they should understand their role as members of the broader management team, what their obligation to negotiate with the union is, and how to discharge this obligation. This knowledge will greatly enhance their ability to manage effectively.
Unresolved problems and disputes at the work site frequently manifest themselves as union negotiation requests. Your ability to informally resolve problems and complaints helps to reduce the volume of issues that have to be dealt with at the negotiating table. Early resolution of problems also improves employees' morale and overall productivity.
The goal of labor-management relations is for supervisors and managers to strive for a sound and constructive relationship with union officials - a relationship that fosters resolution of issues informally, at the lowest practicable level. This is often accomplished through informal consultation and discussions. Where these are unsuccessful, more formalized negotiations may be required.
The formal phase of contract negotiations begins when:
- the union requests its first meeting with management to discuss a written contract, or submits its proposals;
- management requests a meeting with the exclusive representative to discuss a written contract or submits its proposed changes to working conditions; or
- within the time specified in the existing collective bargaining agreement, either party notifies the other of its intent to renegotiate the existing contract.
Negotiations typically are accomplished using one of two methods (or sometimes, a combination of the two)
- Position Based Bargaining - usually a method where each side submits proposals and then argues why their proposals are better than the other side's. This is often a win-lose process where each side is only interested in "winning" the argument and obtaining the best contract language, regardless of the parties' long-term relationship.
- Interest Based Bargaining (or Win-Win Bargaining) - a joint effort approach to mutually addressing the interests of both management and the union. Here, issues are identified and both parties seek to find mutually beneficial solutions to those problems. Your labor relations specialist should be able to provide additional information on this topic.
No matter which method (or combination of the two) is used, the management negotiating team should all be fully trained in the collective bargaining process. If using an interest-based approach, it is recommended to have joint labor-management training on the interest-based bargaining process. As this is a joint effort, separate labor and management training is not appropriate.
The first-line supervisor is the management team member closest to the problems of the work site. He or she is in a good position to quickly determine difficulties in implementing provisions of the existing agreement, to know which ones are working well, and to anticipate provisions that should be included in the next contract with the union. Supervisors need to bring this information to the attention of the management negotiating team or the installation labor relations specialist. Throughout the life of the negotiated agreement, supervisors should advise the management negotiating team whenever some provision of the agreement works particularly well, and when a provision is difficult to administer. The negotiating team will keep a record of these comments, which will assist them in preparing for the next round of negotiations.