Q. Our company is heading into union contract negotiations early this year, and I have been asked to organize the bargaining sessions. I know in the past we have bargained at a local hotel, but we always get stuck with the bill. Does the company have to pay for hotel conference rooms and the refreshments? This cost adds up over a period of weeks. What are the realistic options?
A. It is not unheard of to require the union to pay half the expenses of negotiations, although unions would prefer employers to pay the entire freight.
Some employers agree to conduct negotiations at the local union’s office, which is free. In my experience, most employers don’t want to negotiate in the union hall—union members will frequent the hall, sometimes try to sit in on negotiations or complain about some matter unrelated to the negotiations (but which suddenly becomes a new issue).
There is also a concern about privacy; employers are never sure who is listening in on their “private” caucus sessions.
Some employers do not object to having contract negotiations in their own facilities. It certainly makes it easier to tend to other business during long caucuses.
But there are disadvantages, too. The union may want to bring in other companies’ employees to discuss certain issues. The union bargaining committee may want to go out on the floor and discuss the talks, which would disrupt the workplace.
Moreover, if members of the company’s bargaining team are trying to “multitask” during bargaining sessions, it slows down the process (if that is possible), and the employer tends to lose its focus.
If the parties can’t agree on a site, then you might consider using some federal or state office site that has an open room. Both the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the comparable state agency contact all private employers in Michigan to see whether their services are needed to reach an agreement, and they may offer their offices or be aware of government space you could use without cost.
While there are costs to be considered, I recommend conducting negotiations off site. Any location is better than the employer’s facility.
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