Negotiating a Union Contract – Day One

You just finished a hard fought union campaign, lost, and now have to bargain with the union for a collective bargaining agreement. The next step in the process is the first day of contract bargaining with the union who now represents your employees. The election featured a lot of mudslinging and uncomfortable situations and you feel betrayed by your employees.

In this situation some companies decide to negotiate on their own without legal counsel. This go-it-alone strategy is generally more expensive because companies unknowingly commit unfair labor practices or don’t realize that they negotiated contract terms that cost outrageous sums to comply with. In the end, companies either succumb to the demands of the union, hire a labor lawyer after the process has begun, or close shop.

The Union is in a completely different position at this point. It feels empowered and sees itself as being in control. The union also has strength in numbers. For example, your company has 4 front office employees but 100 bargaining unit members represented by the union. Once negotiations commence, the union will smugly remind you that your employees voted against you when they chose to unionize.

The physical location of the first day of contract bargaining can take place at your company headquarters. However, this is not in your best interest; you should limit the time a union representative is on your property and has access to your workforce. Another alternative is the union hiring hall but this location is also not ideal. The best scenario is to meet at a conference room in a hotel, airport, or nearby neutral facility.

Across the table from the company is a union representative and usually between 2 and 6 company employees who make up the bargaining committee. If you have legal counsel then your lawyer will be at the table joined by one or two senior personnel who know how the company runs, i.e. COO, HR, or plant manager. The ground rules for the negotiations such as dates and times of meetings, whether to negotiation economic proposals first or last, etc. are not predetermined; they are set at the first meeting. The parties also decide who makes the first proposal or if simultaneous proposals are made. A feeling out process naturally occurs during these talks.

The best way to deal with the situation described above is to avoid it. Contact Austin Legal for information on union avoidance training or to represent your company during a union organizing campaign to better your chances of staying union free.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio 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 call Matt at 614.285.5342 or email him at