By S.J. Peters, Executive Director, PCA of Greater Chicago
An engaged audience of both seasoned and novice association bargaining team members concentrated on education and preparation for union contract negotiations at the UAC’s Constructive Collective Bargaining Seminar in Bloomington, Illinois, in late January. Planned and presented by the Union Affiliated Contractors (UAC), a PHCC Business Interest Group, the full-day event drew in more than 50 attendees comprised of signatory PHCC-affiliated contractors and association officials from eight states.
The event was an example of collaboration at its best – with PHCC’s UAC, PHCC of Illinois, and the PCA of Greater Chicago (plus generous sponsors Milwaukee Tool and Bradford White) working together to offer the first UAC in-person meeting in about three years. UAC plans to continue this series of seminars moving forward.
Better Outcomes for Both Sides
PHCC—National President and UAC Vice Chair Dave Frame (of Bob Frame Plumbing Services in South Bend, Indiana) set the tone for a day devoted to substantial learning as he welcomed the registrants. “The PHCC aims to help members run better businesses through education, networking, and resources,” Frame emphasized. “Signatory contractors, like you and me, occupy a distinct and crucial role in our trade. We set the benchmark for all contractors for the most skilled and capable technicians. PHCC contractors are up to all challenges. The fact that we’re all here proves that we persevere.”
In his opening remarks, UAC Chair Brian Rich (of G. A. Rich & Sons in Deer Creek, Illinois) cited the value of building and maintaining mutually respectful and productive relationships with our union colleagues. “As contractors, we prefer competent competition to keep up our industry standards. The same is true with us and our union counterparts. When both sides come to bargaining prepared and organized, the process improves. It’s one reason that the UAC has made contractor education a cornerstone of what we do for you. Bargaining is one of many topics we plan to cover, yet it may be the most significant. Insights, instruction, best practices, and advice on CBA negotiations will be an ongoing UAC effort.”
Building Blocks of Information and Preparation for Bargaining
The seminar offered four distinct sessions focused on specific areas of collective bargaining. Appropriately, the first presentation – “Basics of Bargaining” – by attorney Richard Samson of Ogletree-Deakins in Chicago served both as a refresher for attendees who had been previously involved in union contract negotiations as well as a primary tutorial for beginners. Included were definitions of terms, overviews of standard practices, and common sequences of events.
The second seminar session – led by attorney John Nesse of Management Guidance LLP in St. Paul, Minnesota – explored how a chapter’s negotiating team can properly lay the groundwork for negotiations. “Doing Your Homework: Planning and Preparation by the Association for Bargaining” explored research techniques covering items such as industry hours, benefit funding levels, results from other trades’ settlements, economic information, the political climate, and other relevant data. Pertinent advice on a variety of “do’s and don’ts” and general behavior advice throughout negotiations also was offered.
The third session – conducted by attorney Christina Wernick of Laner-Muchin in Chicago – examined bargaining from the labor side’s point of view. During “Understanding the Union’s Goals and Priorities in Contract Negotiations,” attendees gained insights into the priorities that come into play as our counterparts seek a satisfactory settlement, and the tactics and resources unions apply toward that aim. Since Wernick spent a number of years as legal counsel to a large construction union and its benefit funds prior to joining this management-focused firm, she was able to offer unique and practical perspectives from both sides of the bargaining table.
Samson returned to present the next session, which provided a more advanced look at union contract negotiations. As the name suggests, “Beyond Bargaining: A ‘Nuts & Bolts’ Overview of Negotiations in a Multi-Employer Setting” covered a range of more complex areas of contract talks. Among the topics covered in depth were contract types; bargaining rights delegations; deadlocks, strikes and lockouts; minute taking; bargaining team formation and spokesperson selection; interim agreements; tentative agreements on specific proposals; ratification procedures; and other higher-level considerations.
Rounding Out an Information-Packed Day
To close the seminar, I moderated a panel discussion and Q&A forum featuring all three of the day’s presenters: Nesse, Samson, and Wernick. Audience questions were addressed “live” and via index cards for anonymity. In addition, the presenters furnished in advance a comprehensive list of questions “we wish contractors would ask but rarely do.” The nearly 90-minute discussion covered a mix of pertinent subjects from bargaining, to trust funds, to grievances, to jurisdictional issues, to reciprocity when working outside of the union’s territory, to CBA duration considerations, and more. The seminar ended with a rousing round of applause, with attendees still discussing additional topics one-on-one with the instructors afterward. A survey asking attendees for topic ideas for future seminars was collected, and a closing reception concluded the day.
The UAC and PHCC would like to thank and acknowledge our sponsors: Milwaukee Tool and Bradford White for their generous and consistent support. Also deserving of recognition is the PHCC—National staff, particularly Senior Director of Member Services and Customer Care Kim Dresser. The planning committee also relied on and appreciated the leadership and direction from PHCC—National President Dave Frame; UAC Chair Brian Rich; and the “trifecta” of Illinois PHCC State Chapter Executive Director Bev Potts and the Bloomington/Normal Chapter for arranging and overseeing the meeting site; Illinois State Chapter Associate Director Shelly Lott for coordinating all the graphic design for print and electronic communication; and S. J. Peters of the PCA of Greater Chicago for taking charge of program content and serving both as the day’s emcee and photographer. Finally, our gratitude to the seminar speakers for their relevant and outstanding presentations: attorneys John Nesse, Richard Samson, and Christina Wernick. For more information on the UAC, visit phccweb.org/uac.