Photos by John Storey
IBEW 1245 brought together union negotiators from many employers on Nov. 7 to discuss general strategies for bargaining.
“Professional representation is what members expect from the union in contract negotiations, and IBEW 1245 maximizes our expertise in negotiations by including both staff and rank-and-file members on bargaining committees,” said Assistant Business Manager Ray Thomas.
“Bargaining has been very challenging in recent years, especially in the public sector, and we decided that bringing together the union negotiators from all these various employers would be a good way to share the latest information and get everyone on the same page,” Thomas said.
Senior Assistant Business Manager Dennis Seyfer stressed to the negotiators the importance of remaining united as a bargaining committee.
“When you buy into being on a bargaining committee you buy into that group and you support that group. You are one,” said Seyfer, who has been involved in negotiations for three decades, first as a union member at SMUD and later as a member of the IBEW 1245 staff.
Bargaining committee members will have particular interests and issues they will promote within the committee, Seyfer said, “but when the decision’s made … nobody knows it was ever an issue because you are one when you walk outside of that room.”
A second critical issue, according to Seyfer, is note-taking. Enforcement of the contract, he said, often comes down to figuring out “the intent of the language from the last bargaining.”
“The way we figure that out at the end of the day is to pull out our notes. So you can pretty well imagine what that looks like if you didn’t take notes,” he said.
The notes of bargaining committee members are crucial if the union ends up in an “unfair labor practice” dispute with the employer. They are also important in the event a new manager comes in and is unfamiliar with the bargaining that led to particular contract language. That new manager, Seyfer said, “has no historic reference” and can construct a new interpretation of the language, rather than what was originally intended at the bargaining table.
“That’s problematic for us. So it’s paramount, we need to take notes,” Seyfer said. Even though the notes by one individual bargaining committee member may be incomplete, combined with the notes of other members the union can construct a good picture of the intent of the bargaining.
The conference gave attendees an opportunity to refresh their competencies in many aspects of general contract negotiations, including the process of determining the “best alternatives” when there is conflict between employee and employer contract proposals, Thomas said.
A session led by Thomas focused on federal and state constitutional law relevant to all of the union’s bargaining units. Thomas also updated attendees on recent State Assembly legislation, both pending and already signed into law.
Members had opportunities to network with one another during the conference, allowing them to discuss and compare bargaining issues they face, or may face, with their respective employers. The conference included 75 attendees from various public sector employers, as well as the private sector employers under Seyfer’s purview.
Negotiating committee members affirmed their desire to hold future training sessions to help them stay informed of the latest developments.