The goal of the entire union effort is for your co-workers to win the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with your employer.

There are five overall issues to be committed to a contract during negotiations, listed here with examples of options:

1. WAGES: (pay, bonuses, stipends for certifications, etc.).

2. BENEFITS: (medical, pension, dental, optical, life).

3. WORKING CONDITIONS: (work rules and procedures, employee productivity, mechanisms for discussing workplace problems).

4. JOB PROTECTIONS: (right to a fair, independent hearing process if unfairly disciplined or terminated, right to layoff and recall seniority rules, right to negotiate disciplinary procedures).

5. TIME-OFF: (vacations, sick and personal days, holidays, funeral leave, jury duty).

The collective bargaining process is labor’s true gift to society. People can reasonably debate whether some unions are run correctly, but they cannot reasonably debate the importance of having a contract.

Even CEOs of big companies have contracts. They know the legal power that a contract confers on employees.

With these five elements committed to paper, you have the force of law behind you; you have access to the legal process.

In preparing for negotiations, the union distributes contract proposal questionnaires to gather all contract goals, and the employees elect a Negotiating Committee to finalize the proposal and participate in negotiations. The contract is tailor-designed by and for the employees, with the help of union lawyers and professionals.

The employer and the union must follow legal regulations for negotiating in good faith. These regulations are enforced by the National Labor

Relations Board in the private sector, and the state Public Employment Relations Board In the public sector. All legal costs of negotiating and enforcing the contract are borne by the union, including the entire cost of going to independent arbitration if a grievance cannot be resolved at the workplace. (A typical arbitration costs the union about $10,000.)

The contract can only be approved by secret-ballot vote of the employees. No dues are charged until the contract is in effect. (We pride ourselves on earning those dues with betterthan-average wages and benefits for our members, along with the free legal protection we provide.)

The right to negotiate a contract was won only after a long struggle by the labor movement. It is a right that must be cherished and safeguarded against those who would destroy it.

Without a contract you have nothing. With it, you have the force of law behind you.

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