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  • Bill Cole

When Do You Start to Prepare for Collective Bargaining

There are many reasons why workers join or support the unions in their workplace. We often talk about these in abstract ways – employee voice, agency, instrumentality, or workplace democracy. However we characterize the purpose of the union, it all comes together in the collective bargaining process. If bargaining is not the most important role for the union, it is certainly in the top three.

Ideally your organization’s collective bargaining interests require a year-round focus that does not change once you execute an agreement. This isn’t always practical and for many union leaders the bottomless to-do list of running the organization can get in the way of perfect planning and execution. Even in larger unions where resources are greater, “Bargaining Committees” are sometimes assembled only a few months before the existing agreement expires.

When asked about preparing for collective bargaining I urge clients to do their best to create a year-round approach, but I know this isn’t easy. The critical assessment of how the workplace environment influences negotiations, or how power and leverage strategies require development, alone require time to do them well. In the place of the year-round approach the bargaining process will benefit from structure – advance scheduling to lock in early development stages. I often recommend that negotiation teams start their work approximately eighteen months before collective bargaining starts.

In our advanced collective bargaining training we identify four major stages in the process – three of which occur before you even get to the bargaining table (and two of which are best considered long in advance). But, if you find yourself only a few months from the start of negotiations, you can still benefit from understanding each of these stages.

If you are interested in hearing more about our approach to the collective bargaining or want to know more about the range of support we can provide, email us at

The collective bargaining process is one of the central interests of your members and responsibilities for your organization. Having a full understanding of the process and the various strategies to support your proposals helps you achieve your interests.


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