The idea of unions started in the 1820’s and 1830’s, but successful organizations started to functions in 1850’s.
Today, unionized large and multinational food and accommodation companies must, by law, negotiate with their unions when a contract is about to expire.
Small establishments don’t attract the attention of unions, and large non-union restaurant companies and fast food operations make every effort to stay that way.
Before unions, there were guilds on the European continent, but their mandate was to protect the profession rather than workers’ rights, pay scales, vacations, overtime pay, and work hours.
Powerful unions were created during The Industrial revolution. At the time, employers exploited workers, paid the least amount possible, and increased the workload or time worked whenever they could get away with it. Collective bargaining between management and union officials are the most visible and difficult activities. Everyday grievance resolutions take up most of the time of both administrations. They can even become annoying and frustrating because of their petty nature and time required to resolve.
In North America and most industrialized western economies, laws are thorough enough to stipulate minimum wage, work time, overtime criteria, vacation time and other important aspects of employment.
Most workers stay with one company for many years, but when they become dissatisfied, they start looking for other opportunities pending their skill. Entry-level workers generally are powerless, and forced to accept whatever the company management decides.
Union negotiations generally involve wage increases commensurate with inflation, and the state of the overall economy in the country, paid vacation length, work hours, shifts, and benefits which can range from health insurance, dental care, optical prescriptions, free medications, hospital upgrades etc. All these depend on what the country or state provides to all citizens. Some negotiations involve trivial matters.
Duration of the contract is crucial in times of high inflation, as negotiated wages remain fixed for the length of the contract, while the purchasing power erodes constantly.
Certain subjects are excluded from negotiations i.e marketing policies, and strategies, pricing, investment decisions of the company, closing of the business, offshore transfer of some part or parts of overall production, and/or sale of the company.
If companies start hiring part-time employees, or contract workers in order to circumvent contract clauses, lay offs will be negotiation topics.
Being on strike, or in preparation for a strike, may also be a negotiation item, as in some cases a complete shut down of the employer’s production means bankruptcy, which results in total loss of all jobs.
Before any large-scale strike is called, most North American jurisdictions involve the services of professional conciliators and encourage parties to sign a contract. Such cases occur only for utilities ands other public service organizations. Strikes of public service organizations inconvenience the public, and disrupt the lives of thousands.
If conciliators are unsuccessful, arbitrators may be called in. In rare cases, tow or more unions may be involved in one company. A tripartite negotiation is even more difficult. In rare cases the government may move in by legislating workers to return to work if the strike disrupts orderly living.
In some jurisdictions certain professions may not strike, i.e police force, military, firemen just to amen a few. Unionized government-owned companies that generate significant revenues for the government treasuries try to avoid strikes at all cosy, then increase their prices or cost of services of their services, as is the case of the L.C.B.O (Liquor Control Board Of Ontario)
Collective bargaining always involves the use of implied power either of the company or the union.
While most people think of neonates to involve exclusively financial matters, legal or political power may also represent contractual obligations. Similarly, a company has the right to lock out employees.
Generally, strikes harm employees financially and “smart” unions try to avoid strikes. It is important for the company to repaper adequately for an upcoming negotiation and choose the right location, including the best room set up. The same is true for union negotiators.
Serious negotiations with major issues can be solved relatively quickly if both parties are well prepared, formulate their arguments coherently and discuss financial repercussions for the company and workers.
In most cases the human resources department and the comptroller lead the negotiating team, on the union side, the composition of the team differs from union to union.
Large unions employ economists, and have access to psychologists, labour lawyers and other specialists. All negotiations are “closed-door” and confidential to ensure a smooth evolution.
When parties are close to an agreement even if there is a possibility of a strike, parties may extend the deadline as a last chance to a successful end. Union negotiations consume time, may be disruptive, crippling, and/or very expensive.
If employees are well treated, and adequately paid, provide above average benefits union negotiations are likely to be easy and quick.
Everything depends on good will, the economy of the country or region, and goals of both company and union.