News & Events

Contract language that builds the union

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
March 2007 Edition

By Joe Twarog
Associate Director, Labor Education & Training

The stronger that the union is in the workplace, then the better it is able to function and improve working conditions for all in the bargaining unit. The entire union contract is critical, but there are several contract clauses that focus on how the union operates within the work environment. These provide the foundation and structure for the union. They are often grouped together under an article entitled "Union Rights." The following is a quick review of some key clauses.

  1. Union security. This clause sets in place the type of “shop” that the facility is in terms of union membership. By far, the optimal type of shop is a “union shop.” This means that all members of the bargaining unit (those classifications stated in the “recognition clause” of the contract) as a condition of employment, have to join the union. In many contracts and in the public sector, an “agency fee shop” is often negotiated. This means that some bargaining unit members who chose not to become union members may opt instead to become agency fee payers. Agency fee payers generally have no rights or benefits of union membership, such as: holding union office, serving as an MNA floor representative, sharing in the MNA benefits package, participating in union surveys and voting in contract ratifications (private sector only). The union however, regardless of an employee’s union or non-union status, is obligated under the law to represent all employees in the bargaining unit for collective bargaining purposes and in grievances and arbitrations.
  2. Union access. In order for the union to be an effective representation advocate for the employees, there must be good “union access” language in the contract. This simply allows the staff representative (associate director) the ability to visit the premises, to communicate with union members and to conduct union business.
  3. Union bulletin board. Every union facility should have contract language that allows for a bulletin board for union purposes including notices, an nounc ement s, information and general communication. Ideally, the bulletin board is located in a place where most of the bargaining unit employees can view it with ease. It should not be located in the vicinity of the personnel office however. Such a bulletin board is just another way for union members to stay informed. It is not unusual for a contract to allow for multiple union bulletin boards throughout the facility.
  4. Union orientation. It is the duty of the union itself to inform new employees about the MNA and the union contract. Union orientation language provides for some designated time when a union officer or designee can speak with the new employee about the benefits of the union. This union orientation is often piggy-backed onto the facility’s orientation. This is a great opportunity to introduce new employees to the MNA and to how the union operates at that workplace. This would include a review of the contract, the officers, the floor representatives, current issues, union meeting times, etc. Preferably the union orientation should be included during the facility orientation, and not simply tagged onto the end when people are tired and anxious to leave.
  5. Union leave. An article that is too often overlooked is one called union leave. This article allows a union member to take a leave of absence from the workplace in order to conduct union work. Such work may be to serve as an officer or to work for the union itself. The time frame may vary widely, from several months to years in duration, depending on what is negotiated. Such contract language allows for an employee to take time off from work without fear of losing one’s employment position.
  6. Provision of information. Under the collective bargaining laws (the National Labor Relations Act or Chapter 150(e)) the union is entitled to a wide array of information from the employer regarding working conditions, the facility and the employer to investigate and prepare for possible grievances and for bargaining. This therefore, need not be added as contract language, since the union already has those rights. But it is useful to have some language that addresses the regular provision of information on the status of the bargaining unit membership, including who is in the unit and who has taken a leave of absence and who has terminated employment. Such information should be updated regularly (monthly) and provided automatically.
  7. Release time for floor representatives. Bargaining unit members who serve as Floor Representatives should be allowed paid time off to investigate, process, and handle grievances. This can be specifically stipulated in a contract clause. It is not advisable to limit the number of MNA floor representatives at the facility in the contract, since that is an internal union matter and therefore a permissive issue of bargaining. The issue of paid release time may be considered a mandatory issue of bargaining. (see Massachusetts Nurse, January/ February 2005 issue).
  8. Paid release time for union negotiators. A similar article is one that provides for paid release time for union members who are part of the negotiating committee be given paid release time to participate in contract negotiations. Contract talks can take many hours,days, weeks and months over time, and the dedication of those who serve on the committee should not be penalized by forcing them to take their own personal and vacation time for compensation.
  9. Paid leave for labor conferences/conventions. Similar to contract clauses on paid leave for professional and clinical conferences, the union can negotiate clauses providing for paid time off form work to attend labor events. These are often limited to the union officers and Floor Representatives, and may also be limited to the total number of days per year that can be used. Such language makes it much easier for MNA activists to attend such events as the Annual Chair Summit as well as the Labor Conference and Convention.
  10. Use of facility for union business. Some contracts have clauses that allow for the union to hold union meetings on the facility premises, as well as providing space or a filing cabinet to hold union files and records, and even provisions for an on-site union office. However, the local union itself may have to debate and discuss the pros and cons of using such on-site facilities. While these articles and clauses in themselves do not constitute a contract, they are critical for the efficient and effective operation of the union at the workplace. Often, the employer will fight having these included in the collective bargaining agreement since they recognize that these strengthen the union. The employer would often prefer to put as many roadblocks in the way of the union, and then at the same time criticize the union for not operating effectively.