Ground Rules for Collective-Bargaining Teams

Collective bargaining refers to negotiations between an employer and a team of union representatives in an attempt to create an employment contract. Negotiations typically include wages, working hours, overtime requirements, vacation, employee training and grievance procedures. Ground rules set by one or more members of each team before negotiations begin ensure the process both remains civil and follows National Labor Relations Act and state regulations pertaining to collective bargaining.

Required vs. Optional

There is no legal statute that says contract negotiations must operate under a set of ground rules. However, a set of rules that govern behavior most often benefits both sides. For one thing, rules provide structure and set behavioral expectations. Without them, it is often more difficult to control an environment filled with conflicting objectives and opinions. For another thing, agreed-upon ground rules can reduce the chance of misunderstandings that may not relate directly to contract negotiations but that have the potential to disrupt and throw the entire process off-track.

Standard Inclusions

Standard ground rules, which organize the administrative side of the collective bargaining process, are common inclusions. For example, they define where negotiations will take place, how often, the time of day and the length of each session. Most also include a list of the negotiating team members, which is especially important if negotiations take place during the work day and require that team members be excused from their regular jobs.

Behavioral and Procedural Rules

Ground rules that focus on behavior help to keep tempers and heated debates under control. These typically include procedures for recognizing and allowing team members to speak, as well as for how long, and specify how team members should address each other. Behavioral rules also typically address whether team members can or cannot speak in public about ongoing negotiations. Procedural rules determine whether either side can seek outside advice, and if so, whether they must inform the other side before doing so. They also establish guidelines for private caucusing, such as how long a private caucus session can last.

Recording Agreements and Impasses

Rules and procedures for recording items of agreement and dealing with negotiation impasses in are vital inclusions. For example, ground rules for recording items of agreement might state that a representative from the negotiating team and management must immediately initial and date each item on which the parties agree. For impasses, ground rules might state how long negotiations must continue before declaring an impasse, as well as define procedures such as outside mediation, to address impasse situations.