What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is the bi-lateral process between an employer and a labor union, and it determines everything from wages and health benefits to hours and working conditions. The end result of collective bargaining is a legally binding contract, which clearly describes employees' rights and benefits.
How it works
Employees in a bargaining unit select one organization as their exclusive representative (the vast majority of California's classified employees are represented by CSEA). Union representatives meet with the employer and discuss issues until they reach a "tentative agreement" (TA). No agreement is final until it has been approved (ratified) by the chapter members and by the school board. When the agreement is approved, it becomes a binding contract and both sides must adhere to its provisions.
Contracts vary from district to district, but they generally cover similar issues. The Education Employment Relations Act (EERA) specifies that in addition to wages and benefits, workplace issues such as leave and transfer policies, safety conditions, class size, evaluation procedures and grievance procedures are all negotiable through collective bargaining.
Life before collective bargaining
CSEA supported the legislation that established collective bargaining for California public employees. When SB 160 (Rodda) became law in 1975, it replaced the old "meet and confer" method of resolving issues, whereby school districts used to meet with employee organizations, but had no obligation to reach an agreement. This often led to less job security, smaller wage gains and weaker enforcement of employee rights. However, under the new collective bargaining law, both sides are mandated to make a good faith effort to reach an agreement and sign a binding contract.
Alternatives to traditional bargaining
Today, some chapters are trying new methods of negotiating and different kinds of contracts. Interest-based bargaining is one approach to collective bargaining. It focuses both parties on resolving issues rather than staking out "hard-line" adversarial positions. Interest-based bargaining is an advocacy system based on trust, and not every chapter has this kind of relationship with management. For those chapters that face "less enlightened" management, CSEA still uses the traditional bargaining methods.
Get involved to strengthen your contract
A contract is only as strong as its enforcement. To make sure management is living up to its side of the bargain, you have to know what the contract says. Read your contract and understand what it says. If you don't understand something, ask your job steward to explain it to you. And if you believe management has violated any of your rights as defined by the contract, tell a union steward or your chapter president.
Also, support your negotiating team when they go to the bargaining table-after all, they're there to represent you. Respond to surveys and let your chapter representatives know what you want. Through the collective bargaining process, you can get a lot -- especially with CSEA on your side.