UAW members are represented at the bargaining table by their bargaining committee. The committee is elected pursuant to the local union bylaws, and their size and composition varies depending on the size of the local and the nature of the agreement.
The committee’s job is to attend all negotiating meetings, and do the necessary research and fact-finding to ensure that member’s interests are protected. The committee should also be aware of member priorities and concerns and be prepared to update membership when appropriate.
Some contracts fall under the umbrella of a “national agreement” which is a master agreement covering multiple locations. These locations might also negotiate a local agreement covering local issues. National bargaining occurs with employers such as General Motors, Ford, FCA US, John Deere, Blue Care Network of Michigan, Caterpillar, Navistar, Lockheed Martin and Johnson Control Interiors Manufacturing (JCIM) to name a few.
The national bargaining teams are made up of local leadership from various work sites.
David Parsons is president of UAW Local 4121 (Region 5) which includes more than 4,000 graduate and undergraduate students doing instructional and research work at the University of Washington. He’s been on seven bargaining committees and that experience has given him valuable perspective. “It’s certainly taken time to develop a better understanding of how power and leverage can be developed to affect interactions with management at the table,” Parsons acknowledges.
He recalls one of his lessons on power. “On one of our major issues – student fees – it took many years and multiple types of action to win gains. We’d mobilized and even won an arbitration decision but management refused to move. We then launched a set of large-scale mobilizations involving thousands of members and support from community allies. The facts and arguments hadn’t changed but power had shifted to the union and we made significant advances as a result.”
Parsons concludes, “Serving on the bargaining committee is always a great honor and responsibility. I always encourage others to learn about and get involved in bargaining and how gains are made. Through education and understanding the process, our union becomes stronger.”
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