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Negotiating Union Contracts

One of the last things an employer wants to hear is that its labor force has decided to strike.  Images of picket lines and lost customers float through the minds of the Board and executive officers, while profits are threatened. One major cause of a strike is a breakdown in contract negotiations between the company’s leaders and the labor unions that represent its workers. It can be an entirely avoidable situation if the negotiators are experienced in the nuances of California’s labor laws.

Collective Bargaining Essentials

There are many common aspects of unionized labor contracts, also known as collective bargaining agreements. Many of the elements of the contract may be modified to fit the nuances of the particular industry. Some common clauses include: 

  • Recognition of the union
  • Non-discrimination clause
  • Rights of the union
  • Union security
  • Rights of management
  • Rules for any employee probationary periods
  • Grievance procedures
  • Clauses with regard to pay and seniority rules
  • Arbitration clause

While each collective bargaining agreement will contain unique elements, it is important to have clauses that address all potential causes of trouble that may arise during the employment relationship. Of course it is next to impossible to contemplate and address every hardship that may befall an employee during employment, and one cannot take into account potential economic downturns that may prohibit an employer from fully living up to all promises initially made. However, a skilled negotiator should be able to navigate his or her way through these clauses and draft them in such a way that prevents either party from being completely in control without any checks and balances. 

Breach of Contract

As with any contract entered into between two parties, the agreed-upon terms in collective bargaining agreements must be followed by all parties if they wish to avoid litigation via a breach of contract complaint. While most, if not all, collective bargaining agreements contain arbitration clauses, such alternatives to litigation do not protect a breaching party from facing such penalties as injunctive relief, monetary penalties, and specific performance if possible. It is for this reason that employers must ensure that their supervisors, managers, and executive staff are aware of the terms outlined in any collective bargaining agreement for disciplining and/or terminating covered employees. A manager’s failure to follow the mandates of the agreement could cause major problems down the road as an employee (through his/her union representative) may have the right to sue if the employee was not terminated for just cause. Any experienced negotiator will include specific language in the agreement that explains to all parties what is and is not going to be considered “just cause” that warrants termination.


No employer enters into a collective bargaining agreement with unionized employees with the intent to break the promises included in such a contract. However, sometimes there are gray areas that are left up to the interpretation of the parties whenever a unique situation occurs in the workplace. Having a skilled negotiator on your team is the first step to avoiding future litigation and/or costs of a striking workforce. Call the professionals at Garcia & Gurney  today to talk to an attorney about your rights as an employer during negotiations.  We can provide advice, or representation depending on your needs.

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