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While media tends to focus on wages when reporting labor conflict, collective bargaining objectives usually include more than dollars per hour. In the United States, terms and conditions of employment remain a largely a private responsibility between employers and workers, with government regulation and labor law focusing on the procedures of bargaining.
Because unions are driven by worker members, individual benefits are a strong priority. While this does include wage increases, other objectives addressing worker needs include health insurance, vacation time, education packages and pensions. The company's objectives may seek to limit raises to a certain percentage or to tie wage increases to corresponding productivity increases. For extended benefits such as health, education and pensions, an employers seeks to retain control of the scope and providers of these packages for purposes of cost control.
Objectives related to terms of employment cover matters such as hours of work, coffee and lunch breaks, shifts and shift rotation. This category also includes issues such as job classifications, seniority and discipline. Telecommuting is a contemporary term of employment that is on the rise, and it is frequently an objective of workers seeking better balance between work and home life. Unions now seek to protect workers' rights to request telework where such programs exist.
Historically, union objectives sought to improve working conditions, reduce risk and provide safe conditions for workers. This continues on both sides of the bargaining table, since businesses comply with federally mandated occupational health and safety regulations. However, workplace conditions go beyond safety. Protection of workers against unfair discipline and exploitation by supervisors and managers is a prominent topic in the wake of anti-bullying awareness.
Collective bargaining procedures are federally mandated and provide a framework within which both unions and employers must work, though there is plenty of discretionary room. The National Labor Relations Board requires that unions and employers "meet at reasonable times to bargain in good faith." Either union, employer or both may seek to define schedules of reasonable time and principles and acts of good faith that apply to the industry and location of the workers involved.
A full-time content creation freelancer for over 12 years, Scott Shpak is a writer, photographer and musician, with a past career in business with Kodak.