Multi-employer bargaining happens when two or more employers bargain or negotiate through an agent or committee with a labor organization that represents the employees of both employers. Employers who negotiate in a group like this are in a stronger position when sitting across the negotiating table from the union.
Multi-employer contracts are mostly seen in the construction industry where “area standards” is customary. There, union members of the same job classification work under the same terms and conditions of employment regardless which company they work for. For example, a welder that is hired out the hiring hall will make the same wage, have the same benefits package, and work under the same terms regardless whether the welder works for Company Alpha, Company Beta, or Company Charlie, assuming Alpha, Beta, and Charlie are signatory to the multi-employer agreement.
Multi-employer bargaining also helps to prevent a union tactic called “whipsawing.” Whipsawing is when workers compete with each other to perform work cheaper. It may involve successive surprise strikes by a union against a series of employers in an industry or in an employer’s association so that no employer know which one will be “sawed off” next. If the employers negotiate at once, unions are not able to use this trick.
Unions also benefit from multi-employer contract bargaining. For example, they get to save time and resources by negotiating at one time rather than going through negotiations with each individual employer. Plus pension plans, medical benefits, and industry-wide training programs become more economical with additional employers.
Companies should not allow the benefits of multi-employer bargaining to mask the reality that legal counsel should be used when negotiating these types of contracts. Multi-employer contracts are more difficult to negotiate because there are more parties at the table that must agree on the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement.
Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio employment lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can email Matt at Austin@LaborEmploymentOSHA.com or call him at 614.285.5342.