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Collective Bargaining

Collective Bargaining FAQs

If a union wins the right to represent team members, the union and the employer begin a process of negotiations called “collective bargaining.” Collective bargaining, as defined by the law, requires an employer and the representative of its team members (i.e., a union) to:

  • Meet at reasonable times
  • Confer in good faith about certain matters
  • Put into writing any agreement reached if requested by either party.

The law does not, however, compel either party to agree to a proposal by the other, nor does it require either party to make a concession to the other.


The union can’t guarantee anything except the right to try to negotiate a contract and charge dues. You could end up with less than you have now, more than you have now or keep the same as you have. A union can ask for anything during contract talks – but there is no guarantee those items will actually be agreed upon or included in the contract. A union can only obtain what the employer is willing and able to give.

Negotiation topics include wages, benefits, hours and other terms and conditions of employment such as how seniority is used, required dues deduction and the grievance process. These are called “mandatory subjects of bargaining.” There also are “permissive subjects” that do not have to be negotiated, and these might include topics like work procedures and the number of people hired to do a particular job.

That is decided through a back-and-forth negotiations process between management and the union. You could end up with less than you have now, more than you have now or keep the same as you have. There are no guarantees. A union can only achieve what the employer is willing and able to give.

Bargaining for a first contract varies greatly but can take a long time. The law does not place a time limit on how long negotiations will take; the law does not even require that an agreement ever be reached. It is not uncommon for the first contract to take 12 months or even longer to negotiate. According to Bloomberg Law, it takes an average of 528 days to reach agreement on a first contract.

No. The employer must maintain what the law calls the status quo – which means that most issues – including changes to wages and benefits – cannot be changed without agreement unless the change previously was planned or is part of a practice.

No. Once a union represents a group of team members, the contract the union negotiates with the employer applies to all the team members in that bargaining unit. The rules do not allow for a team member to “opt out” of a union contract he or she doesn’t like, nor do they allow for a team member to disregard portions of the contract that he or she doesn’t agree with…. plus, the union would still expect you to pay dues or fees if it negotiates a “union security” or “closed shop” provision into the contract.