Union Basics/FAQs

New to being in a union? Does our union seem different from your previous union? This page will help answer many Frequently Asked Questions we receive and also cover some commonly used vocabulary. Not finding an answer to your question? Call or email us so we can help.

What is a contract?

A contract, also known as a “Collective Bargaining Agreement,” is a binding document that lays out certain rights and responsibilities for both an employer and the representatives of employees, the union. A union contract provides many benefits that are not otherwise available to employees who lack union representation.

For example, the UE 1004 contract includes a “just cause” provision, meaning that the hospital cannot discipline or terminate an employee unfairly, without meeting a specific set of criteria that determine whether or not discipline is just. Without a union contract, employees are “at will” employees, which means the hospital could discipline or fire an employee at any time without a good reason.

What are contract negotiations?

A contract between a union and an employer is good for a specific length of time (in our case, three years). Prior to the expiration of the contract, the hospital and the union have negotiations, also called bargaining. We meet together in person, and each side asks for things they want.

For example, a union usually asks for wage increases, while an employer typically tries to limit spending additional money on employees. Most of the time, it takes many rounds of exchanging proposals for both sides to reach an agreement. This becomes the new contract when the previous one expires.

In UE, negotiations are led by a team that is comprised mostly of members of the local union, in our case, workers in the hospital. This is because members know best the reality of the situation inside the hospital. There are also members of the national union staff on the Negotiating Committee.

In UE, we strive for open negotiations, meaning that any member can come observe the process. This tells management that members know what’s happening, they support the Negotiating Committee, and they care about reaching a good agreement.

In UE, when an agreement is reached, it is called a “Tentative Agreement.” This is because the agreement is then brought forward to the membership for their discussion and then a vote on whether or not they think the Tentative Agreement is the best possible settlement that could be reached with the employer. The vote on whether or not the contract is sufficient is called “Contract Ratification.”

What is discussed in contract negotiations?

Almost everything related to employee pay, benefits, and working conditions can be discussed during negotiations. Both sides can bring up ideas or topics that they would like to discuss. This includes everything from hourly rates and shift differentials to uniforms and union access to the employer’s property.

Just because a proposal is made on an issue does not mean that both sides will come to an agreement on whether or how it should appear in the contract.

What is a grievance?

A grievance is a formal complaint about a violation of our contract. The grievance procedure in our contract helps us to resolve disputes between between the union and the hospital. Grievances arise for a number of reasons, from someone not being paid correctly to someone receiving an unfair discipline or termination. If you think you might have a grievance, contact a union representative right away. In our contract, we only have ten days from when the violation happens to file a grievance.

What is a steward?

This is a worker and member of the union who is elected as a leader of their work area to be a union representative. Stewards are trained and educated on matters that may arise within the workplace. In UE we say, “Stewards are the first line of defense.” This is because a steward acts as our eyes and ears within the workplace to defend the contract and their coworkers.