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by Peter Moskos

February 23, 2011

Collective Bargaining 101

I know it's important, but I'm a bit clueless here. Can somebody explain to me just what collective bargaining means? Why is it important to unions? And what would happen if it were taken away?


Befuzzled said...

Haven't read it myself, but this might help?

PCM said...

I'll check it out. That link didn't work, though. Perhaps this is the same article:

Befuzzled said...

sorry- not sure why the link isn't working. There's another article on that blog- posted on 21st Feb at 5.54pm called "What's at stake in Wisconsin- a primer on the debate"

CI-Roller Dude said...

Yeah, I can explain collective bargaining to you in real simple terms:
One PD I worked at didn't have a very good "union". We got crapped on. I was the #1 most senior cop- so I was supposed to get shift pick, vac pick etc first.
But, if the sgt doing the sched didn't like you...he'd put you on what ever shift he wanted you on.

Now where I work, they may not pay for crap, but we have some rights that mang won't mess with.

Other things unions got Americans:
40 hour work week, sick time, vactions, medical insurance, right to work, etc, etc.

There are a very small percentage of Union people who are idiots...that make the rest of the unions look bad. (kind of like police departments---one bad one and everybody thinks all cops are bad.)

PCM said...

CI-roller, but how does colletive bargaining relate to those issues you raise?

Map Monkey said...

All of those things that CI-Roller mentioned as gained by Unions (40-hour work week, vacation, sick days, etc.) came about through collective bargaining. It is the main raison d'etre of unions. The International Convention of Human Rights recognizes collective bargaining as a basic human right, and in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada justified its opinion of collective bargaining as a human right by the following "The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work... Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends…rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government... Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace. Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives." You know, "united we stand" kind of stuff. One little diggity diggity guy or gal trying to negotiate individually with management for better pay or safer working conditions wouldn't have gotten doodely squat, as they say. This bad-mouthing of unions is all just a big ploy to turn working people against each other, so they are distracted from the fact that the corporate fat-cats (etc.) are the real problem.

Richard P. said...

It is really simple unlike all the explanations given above.

Most people get individual employment contracts when hired. The better you deal the better you get - your leverage is only as good as your value to the employer however. If I haggle for more vacation, no one else will in the firm unless they are able to haggle for it.

Collective bargaining is a threat to the employer that everybody gets the same deal or we all walk. That increases the employees' leverage.

That is what it means. Plain and simple.

I think the killer for the Wisc. deal is that they can't ever ask for a raise (in real terms) and can't haggle collectively for benefits.

PCM said...

Thanks. I hit you nail on the head. I didn't mean for this to be a general discussion of unions (I'm pro-union, by the way, at least most of the time).

I really just wanted to understand what collective bargaining is and why it's so close to unions' hearts.

So please explain this: If state workers lose collective bargaining, is the state really going to write and sign different contracts with different workers? Do workers for state governments that don't have collective bargaining have different amounts of vacation time? That seems unlikely.

And if workers don't have collective bargaining, does that mean that *can't* bargain collectively? I didn't know that was a right the government could take way. If if workers don't have that right, who does the government negotiate with. Or is that the point? They just offer a contract and you take it or leave it. Is it like baseball before free agency? (that I *do* understand)

Jeff N said...

Its hard to find a reasonable summary of the actual proposed legislation. Everything is hugely biased one way or the other.

But from what I've read, there are two main sticking points.

The law will restrict the ability of unions to collectively bargain for benefits and working conditions. They would continue to be able to collectively bargain for salary.

I'm anti-union, but I think this is wrong. You should not be able to restrict peoples freedom to associate.

And yes I think it means take it or leave it on the benefits and working conditions. If you dont like it, find another job.

And the law would make Wisconsin a 'right to work' state. Unions are vehemently opposed to 'right to work' laws.

A right to work law means that it is illegal to require that employees join a union or pay union dues to get a job. No more closed shops.

As I said above, I am anti-union so I support right to work laws. You shouldnt be forced to join a union to get a job (especially a government job)

There are a bunch of other things in the law which make life more difficult for unions,such as how long their contracts can last, maximum increase amounts, etc. But the two items above are the two union busting pieces.

Oh, and I read that police and firefighters are exempted from this legislation.

Pete Guither said...

As I understand it, collective bargaining is simply the process with which unions and management negotiate (over everything from pay to benefits to working conditions). It refers to a group representing employees and a group representing management sitting down at a table and hashing it out.

Collective bargaining is differentiated from individual bargaining, where you negotiate a salary and benefits when you are offered a job.

Some states do not allow collective bargaining for public employees and yes, they just set the rates and benefits for their employees (although there may be individual bargaining in some jobs).

In response to Jeff N, I believe that "right to work" can be effective in many instances without victimizing workers, but when they are, it's largely because unions somewhere first set an expectation of what acceptable working conditions are.