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Winning union elections is just the start of an awkward dance between workers and employers

September 14, 2022, 11:51 AM UTC
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Negotiating a union contract takes an average of 409 days. The long process requires delicacy from HR leaders.
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Good morning!

Unionization efforts have grabbed headlines in recent months. Well that and inflation, but we’ll save that for later in today’s newsletter. To the average onlooker, it might appear as though union organizers are making progress. But a union election win is only the beginning of a yearlong race to secure a contract. The ensuing process is one that is long, arduous, and requires delicacy from HR leaders lest they violate labor laws during negotiations. 

The unionization movement is far from over. Already, a Starbucks in Seattle, an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, and a Chipotle restaurant in Lansing, Mich., recently became the first locations at their respective companies to unionize. But as Fortune’s Paolo Confino wrote this morning, some organizers might never actually see a contract because workers and employers get stuck in the contentious bargaining cycle. 

Workers have a year to negotiate their contract after winning a union vote. Once that timeline lapses, they’re at risk of employers holding a vote to disband them—more commonly known as decertification. Without an agreement in place, workers are forced to negotiate for each and every issue that affects employment conditions. This poses a real challenge for both employees and employers who might see productivity and morale tank if the negotiating process stretches on too long or becomes quarrelsome. Negotiating a union contract takes an average of 409 days, according to a study conducted by Bloomberg Law, and fewer than half of newly formed unions finalize a contract before the one-year mark.

During that yearlong period—or more—employers must be cautious of how they approach the bargaining process. Confino spoke with Fred Braid, a management lawyer at the law firm Holland & Knight, about what leaders should keep in mind. Though an employer might wish to remain non-union, it would be imprudent for a company to “wreck its business and do foolish things just because the employees have organized,” Braid says. 

That includes violating labor laws by discriminating against pro-union employees with reduced hours, worse benefits, or even termination. Should an employer do so, employees can file charges with the National Labor Review Board.

For what it’s worth, the collective bargaining process typically goes over smoothly despite some highly publicized conflicts. But even in good faith negotiations, Braid advises clients to prioritize the “preservation of as much managerial freedom as possible” in union contracts. “If management is weak and makes bad deals, which makes the company non-competitive, shareholders won’t be happy about that,” Braid says.

Read the full story here.

Amber Burton
amber.burton@fortune.com
@amberbburton

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- Patreon is the latest company in the ever-growing roster of tech firms announcing layoffs. The membership platform’s CEO Jack Conte shared in a letter to staff that 17% of employees will be laid off, affecting the go-to-market, operations, finance, and people teams. TechCrunch

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Have a move? Let me know: amber.burton@fortune.com

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