The Real Power—Away From the Bargaining Table

The outcome of contract negotiations is determined in large part simply by who has more power.  Each side constantly evaluates during bargaining whether it can hold firm in its positions or whether it must compromise, based on its 2014.08.11membertip-union.strongassessment of how much each side can exert pressure on the other if agreement is not reached.  Because of these power dynamics, effective union negotiators don’t conceive of bargaining as taking place “in a vacuum.”  Throughout negotiations, unions that understand the big picture look for ways to demonstrate that the members stand behind their bargaining team.  If an employer gets the message that the small group of union negotiators it’s dealing with face-to-face is in fact speaking for large numbers of bargaining unit members, that can create enough pressure for the employer to give the union what it wants.  Most important, the employer must believe that if issues aren’t successfully resolved at the table, the members won’t take the employer’s “no” for an answer.  What this means is that if you want a good contract, you and your union may well not have the luxury of simply sending dedicated and skilled union negotiators off to deal with the employer and then waiting until they come back with a string of victories.  Actions outside of the bargaining room may be necessary to get what’s needed inside that room.

—Adapted from The Union Member's Complete Guide, by Michael Mauer.