Why It Gets Quiet Once Negotiations Start
After the bargaining committee is elected, has collected member priorities, and received training, the next step is to head to the table to begin bargaining.
For members, this can be one of the most frustrating parts of bargaining because most bargaining committees do not provide reports to membership during this time. This information “blackout” can lead to frustration and even suspicion. But there is a very good reason for it.
Bargainers negotiate entire agreements, not piecemeal parts. So what is true on Monday when the team agreed to language on overtime might change by Tuesday when they are talking about wage increases. Moreover, it’s a common management tactic to leak gains made by the union during bargaining to the media in order to put pressure on the company to rescind those gains. It is a way to give the company an excuse to take something away that union members want. Therefore, parties often agree to mutually refrain from any outside communications during this process.
Despite the lack of information, there is still much that the membership can be doing to support bargaining. Tom Stedman is president of UAW local 2367 (Region 9) in Rome, New York. Both he and his members work for Revere Copper Products. “When we went into negotiations this last time, we had some tough issues around health care,” says Stedman. “We couldn’t talk or give updates during bargaining, but our committee would make sure to walk the plant during breaks. We’d come in early and stay late so all shifts saw us. The energy it created was incredible. Members were wearing solidarity shirts, and the line would slow down when they saw us.
“Honestly, I can’t tell you enough the confidence you get at the bargaining table at four in the morning when you know your members are behind you. In the end, the company couldn’t overcome the energy we had behind us and we got a strong contract that addressed our health care issue.”