Working together is not always easy – it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about family relations, getting along with colleagues, working well with managers, or maintaining positive union connections. It can be hard to see eye to eye. Sometimes it’s even harder to remember we’re all on the same team, working for the same goals.
During bargaining, these relationships can get especially strained. Colleagues might not agree on what’s important enough to ask for at the bargaining table, negotiating teams may disagree on the best approach at the table or on the mandate the members have given. Union representatives walk the line between what the members demand and what the employer will give, trying to get the best deal for the bargaining unit without causing irreparable harm to the ongoing workplace relationships.
The thing is, sometimes there’s no easy way to get from a place of conflict to a resolution. Communication helps, in fact it’s often the only thing that really does help. Sometimes though, you don’t have the freedom to communicate the way you’d like. Sometimes you try but there are too many barriers in the way.
Unions negotiators are in a unique position. They may have information that they can share with the bargaining team but not the membership at large. If confidential details from their discussions at the table leak out, the entire process of bargaining could be jeopardized and the negotiations could be stalled. Members of a bargaining team are required to uphold the confidentiality of the information they acquire at the table, and the consequences of breaching that trust are enormous to the members.
Each workplace is different and each round of bargaining takes on its own personality. What can members do if they don’t understand what’s happening? How can you register dissent if you are not happy with the process, the outcome, the messaging or the agreement your team has reached?
Put yourself in the shoes of the bargaining team, first of all. Recognize the time and effort they have put into the process on your behalf. It’s hard to face down your employer at the table. You don’t have to agree with everything the team puts forward, but it helps if you can recognize the work, and their good intentions.
If you don’t understand what is in a tentative agreement or don’t think the team has gotten close enough to the deal you’d hoped for, speak up. Vote against the agreement at a ratification meeting and state why on the back of your ballot. Have a conversation, write a letter, make a phone call, ask the questions. In short, participate in the process.
You don’t like the direction your team is going this round? Step up. Provide bargaining input next time. Nominate yourself or someone else who shares your values to the bargaining team. Unions are democratic organizations. You can complain all you want, you can be pro or con, but unless you get active and engage, you’re not making anything happen, for good or for ill.
Recognize too that your team does everything they can and your negotiator takes the employer as far as they’re willing to go. It’s not in a negotiator’s training to leave money on the table, to let a question go unasked or to fail to try for everything the members have requested.
Democracies are uncomfortable, crunchy places sometimes. Open dialogue and discussion is not always smooth sailing but it’s necessary and important. If you are happy, great, let’s talk about that. If you’re not happy, let’s talk about that. Like any kind of conflict, you have to take your concerns to the right place. Facebook, the coffee room… maybe that’s not the right place. Sure it feels good to vent, but what difference are you going to make, really?
Got a problem? Have a question? Like what’s happening, don’t like what’s going on? The right place is right here. Give us a call. 867-667-2331, 1-888-YEU-2331, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Geick, President of YEU