How Do Labor and Management View Collective Bargaining?

By Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Joel; Kochan, Thomas A. et al. | Monthly Labor Review, October 1998 | Go to article overview

How Do Labor and Management View Collective Bargaining?


Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Joel, Kochan, Thomas A., Wells, John Calhoun, Monthly Labor Review


Since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, collective bargaining has been the primary means by which U.S. workers can collectively negotiate terms and conditions of employment with their employer. Currently, more than 100,000 contracts are in effect, covering approximately 9 million workers and their employers in the private sector.(l) (An additional 8 million workers are covered under labor agreements in the public sector.) Despite the importance of collective bargaining, the number of workers covered under bargaining contracts has steadily declined for nearly four decades.

While very little national, public debate has occurred regarding the future of the institution of collective bargaining, a less easily observed debate is occurring in practice, as parties either explore cooperative innovations or resort to adversarial extremes. This report presents evidence that the "debate in practice" is far from resolved. It draws on a new national survey of labor and employer representatives to provide a snapshot of current collective bargaining in the United States.(2) This report examines the pressures affecting labor and management involved in negotiations, the issues most frequently addressed in bargaining, the role of the contract deadline, pressure tactics used by unions and employers to influence the process and its outcomes, and the quality of the relationships, as well as the direction and pace of change in labor-management relations. The results are directly relevant to several critical public policy issues, including the role of striker replacements and the nature of bargaining in first-contract cases.

The survey and sample

The data reported here are from the first national random-sample survey of union and management negotiators, conducted under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service as partial fulfillment of requirements under the Federal Government's National Performance Review initiative.(3) In 1993, President Clinton asked all Federal agencies to conduct a National Performance Review, designed to assess the needs of their customers and to ensure continuous improvement in the delivery of services and products to these customers.

A stratified random sample of 1,050 contracts was constructed from the 60-day contract expiration notices (90 days in the health care industry) that are sent to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, as well as the new bargaining unit certifications for first-contract negotiations. A telephone survey was then administered by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. A 3-year period-from April 1, 1993 to April 1, 1996-was chosen because the average contract duration in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service database is 34 months. The 3-year period assures that contracts of different lengths would be included in the sample. The sample was stratified by size (half the sample is drawn from contracts with 250 or fewer bargaining units and half from larger units) and by whether or not the parties used the mediation and conciliation service for mediation in their most recent negotiations. Two-thirds were users of mediation and one-third did not use mediation in their most recent round of negotiations.

The chief negotiator in the collective bargaining process was identified and interviewed. Among those not responding, 13 were not eligible, given the sampling criteria; 86 could not be located; 2 could not be interviewed due to language difficulties; 97 could not schedule an interview during the time available for the study; and 82 declined to be interviewed. The final sample therefore consists of 777 union respondents and 780 employer respondents-a combined total of 1,557, or a response rate of 74.6 percent.

To account for the oversampling of large units and of users of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, as well as the slightly different union and management response rates, data were weighted by size, by users/nonusers of the service, and by union or management affiliation. …

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