Inside the Negotiating Room: Collective Bargaining in Alberta

Collective bargaining. It’s a term we’ve all heard. But negotiations between unions and employers can seem shrouded in mystery to the average worker – especially those new to the process.

Let’s go behind the scenes and see how it all works…


What is collective bargaining?

Think of collective bargaining as unionized employees working together to negotiate for a fairer, safer and more rewarding workplace.

The union organizing committee, business agent (trained union negotiator), and employer sit down to discuss issues including working conditions, wages, benefits, employment terms, work hours, leave and more.

The goal is to negotiate a binding contract between workers and their employer, which will last several years.

It’s important to remember that collective bargaining is not an “us versus them” situation. It’s a collaborative effort to find common ground and create a workplace that benefits everyone.


What is the role of a labour union in collective bargaining? 

As mentioned, the purpose of collective bargaining is to negotiate a multi-year contract that is acceptable to both the union and employer. The collective bargaining team will include representatives from the organizing committee (employees) as well as the business agent and other professional negotiators from the union.

Identifying issues and opportunities

The work of the union representatives begins long before the negotiating process.

Union representatives are continually working together to communicate with members. This allows them to identify and understand workers’ needs, issues and concerns at a unionized workplace… which forms the basis of the union’s collective bargaining demands.

Preparing Negotiation Strategies

Before entering negotiations, the union’s collective bargaining team will look at the key issues they would like to include in the next contract.

They’ll extensively research industry standards, company finances, and relevant regulations. Knowing what employees in other similar workplaces are receiving is also important, as it will provide a solid starting point for negotiation.

From there, the team will create clear objectives for negotiations, such as wage increases or improved benefits. Behind the scenes, they may work to build support among your fellow union members to strengthen bargaining power.


Inside the negotiation process

Negotiations typically follow a structured process.

It starts with both sides presenting their initial proposals, which outline their starting terms. Following the initial proposal are any counteroffers. Negotiations typically involve back-and-forth exchanges of proposals, often requiring compromise. It can often take months, as this helps ensure all the issues are discussed thoroughly.

As negotiations progress, the parties reach tentative agreements on all issues – including the length of the agreement.


Approval is up to the members

Once the terms are finalized, members will receive a draft collective bargaining agreement to vote on.

It will be up to the collective bargaining team to review the agreement with union members and ensure the membership clearly understands what they’re voting on.

A vote by secret ballot will be held to accept or reject the agreement. Ratification requires majority approval.


How can I get involved in the collective bargaining process?

As a union member, it’s important to actively participate in your union. Your voice counts. Make sure it’s heard! You can do this by:

  • Sharing your concerns, ideas, and priorities with union representatives,
  • Attending union meetings and staying engaged in the decision-making process,
  • Casting your vote on collective bargaining decisions and,
  • Offering your time and skills to support union activities, committees, or outreach efforts.


Teamsters 987 and other allies will work alongside your organizing committee at every step of the negotiations. We provide valuable support and knowledge to help members make positive changes in the workplace. Engaging in the process helps play a pivotal role in securing better wages, improved working conditions, and enhanced benefits for all.

If you’re gearing up for collective bargaining negotiations, Teamsters 987 is here to act as your guide. Contact us today to learn how we can be your ally in achieving a stronger, more equitable workplace.

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