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 contract demands. 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 negotiations. 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 contract proposals;
- management requests a meeting with the exclusive representative to discuss a written contract or submits its contract proposals; 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)
No matter which method 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 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 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.