Concluding an Agreement
Even when the union and the employer reach agreement at the bargaining table on all items for a new contract, it’s usually not yet a done deal. Others often must approve these “tentative agreements” before they are signed, sealed and delivered. On the employer side, sometimes a board of directors or higher-ups in the organization will have to give their approval, or, in the public sector, the legislature will have to fund a wage or benefit increase. On the union side, either the union bylaws or the practice of the union usually provides for member ratification of the agreement – a vote to accept or reject. (Keep in mind, though, that there are some situations when you won’t get to vote approval or disapproval of a contract; for example, if a settlement ultimately is handed down by an outside arbitrator.) Either at a union meeting or through printed material or a union website, you should be provided a full opportunity to educate yourself on the provisions of the tentative agreement. Usually, the bargaining team or the union leadership will make a recommendation on whether the contract should be voted up or down. Your union leaders may well recommend a “no” vote on the contract, as a tactic. A vote by the rank and file to send the union negotiators back to the bargaining table, after tentative agreement has been reached on a new contract, is sometimes an effective way of showing the employer’s negotiators that what’s been offered just isn’t enough to settle the contract.
—Adapted from The Union Member's Complete Guide, by Michael Mauer