Q. We are about to enter contract negotiations. In the past, we have always paid the members of the union bargaining committee for time spent in negotiations. However, we don’t have a contract provision addressing the issue. Are we required to pay union members for time spent in negotiations?
A. The simple answer is no. There is no law that requires paying the union’s bargaining committee for time they spend in negotiations. Many employers do not. Most union bylaws provide for the local union to pay a member’s lost wages to the extent they aren’t paid by the employer.
This issue frequently comes up at the outset of negotiations. Have this conversation even though it may be uncomfortable. There’s nothing quite like starting off negotiations by stating that the employees will not be paid!
If you don’t inform the union at the outset, it will probably argue that the past practice is well established—or that you’re at least changing a term or condition of employment without bargaining. That’s arguably an unfair labor practice. Informing the union that its members will not be paid for bargaining lets the union include pay for the bargaining committee as one of its economic demands, which it can in turn accept or reject during bargaining.
Some contracts do provide for committee members to be paid, which takes it off the table as an issue, assuming you reach agreement before the contract expires. If negotiations go beyond the expiration date, you should take a position on the issue. If you extend day-to-day, then pay for the committee likewise extends day-to-day.
Make sure you keep accurate records of when bargaining starts and stops. You don’t want the committee to say they spent 12 hours a day in negotiations because the committee “studied” proposals for an additional six hours after formal bargaining sessions concluded. Assuming you are willing to pay the committee, I would spell out that there is a maximum of eight hours a day with no premiums.
As you prepare for negotiations, this is one of many issues that you will want to consider well in advance of sitting at the table.