How to Prepare for Labor Union Contract Negotiations

The inability to reach agreements in labor disputes can have profound consequences not only for the operations of the businesses in question, but also for workforces – whether it’s lost wages, deceases in general morale, or simply adding new complications to peoples’ everyday routines. Needless to say, a lot is at stake. This means that when any labor negotiation is about to occur, a lot of strategic prep work is required on both sides. Below we talk a bit about what you should focus on as your business considers how to prepare for labor negotiations.

Done deal


Try to get a Pulse on how your workforce feels
How is current company morale? How employees have dealt with HR can be indicative of their needs in the workplace. Make sure you understand what your workforce is seeking as you head into union negotiations.

Determine flexibility
Naturally, labor unions are going to try and get the best deals possible for their members. You’re going to be asked to make compromises and while you want what’s best for your employees, you’ll want to make sure that any concessions you might make don’t harm your operating costs. You’ll want to take into account things like healthcare benefits, paid sick leave, parental leave, vacation, hours, and most importantly, wages. How flexible can you be in the aforementioned areas without hurting your business financially? Simply said, you’ve got to know where to put your foot down.

Compile & familiarize yourself with all the data
Getting all the documents organized is extremely important. You’re going to want to have an accurate and in-depth breakdown of all your labor costs – accounting for things like hours (including OT), benefit costs (sorted by each benefit), and finally, a timeline that shows how your labor level has trended over an extended period of time. Having properly sorted data that you’re already familiar with and can use for quick reference will allow you to be quick on your feet during the negotiation process.

Examine past dealings with the union
Be prepared and knowledgeable regarding your company’s previous dealings with the union. This is usually a pretty good indicator of the strategy the other side is going to use once again. The union is likely to repeat a push for some of the things you didn’t concede last time around; how effectively you were able to counter whatever it was, are you willing to concede it this time around (has your business performance changed?) and if not, how big of an obstacle is it in ultimately reaching an agreement?

Have a backup plan
Prepare for the possibility that you might not be able to reach a resolution with the labor union as soon as you’d like. That’s why it’s important that you have a solid contingency plan in place – assuring that your business is able to continue to operate without disruption until you’re ultimately able to reach an agreement with the other side. For help in this area, view Strom’s consulting services. We can help you set up a well-thought-out backup plan that’ll ensure your business’s stability as you go through the negotiation process.

When it comes to labor contract negotiations, there are many factors that play a part in successfully reaching deals (collective bargaining can be an important aspect, for example. Read our post, How Does Collective Bargaining Protect Employers & Employees?). Thinking on the spot without much preparation is not an option. By making sure everything’s properly organized and ready to go, you’ll be much more likely to find consensus and negotiate a deal that makes everyone happy.

What’s the Difference? Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery, & Labor Contingency Planning

Both disaster recovery and business continuity share one thing in common: they require well-thought-out plans in instances where things go wrong – allowing businesses to continue functioning in a way that’s as seamless as possible. By understanding the difference between business continuity & disaster recovery, you’ll be able to properly form and assign responsibilities to particular segments of your organization – allowing your team members to effectively carry out tasks when faced with difficult situations.

businessman is examine document and woman is working on laptop c

Business Continuity Plan

Business continuity is, in fact, a broad company plan that includes steps regarding how an organization will continue to operate in the event that it’s faced with an occurrence that would otherwise cause disruption. This encompasses numerous aspects of the business – all of which play an integral part in ensuring that the company is able to continue operating effectively. To start planning a continuity plan, businesses should analyze their most important services/products, ask exactly what allows them to make those available, and then determine exactly how to back up those factors that provide availability.

Disaster Recovery Plan

On the other hand, disaster recovery is just one part of an organization’s overall business continuity plan. It primarily refers to a business’s ability to recover data when there’s some kind of technical failure, fire at a data center, storm that results in facility damage, or some other kind of technical issue. Therefore, an effective disaster recovery plan should involve all aspects of the business, so operations can continue despite whatever incident has occurred.

Labor Contingency Planning

Similar to disaster recovery planning, Labor Contingency is just one portion of the overall Business Continuity Plan. The primary focus is to plan for an unforeseen labor stoppage. This could be in the form of a union dispute, natural disaster, shortage of available skilled workers, or even if you are in a ‘job island’ and cannot find the necessary workforce to meet seasonal demand. Having a well thought out plan in place allows the company to remain flexible. By bringing in temporary replacement workers to supplement or even replace the normal workforce, companies are able to continue to remain profitable even during labor strife.


Incidents that threaten your business’s performance are, without a doubt, extremely challenging. However, when you take the time to plan and, by understanding the similarities and differences between business continuity, disaster recovery, and labor contingency planning, you can make sure you’re best prepared to handle whatever you’re confronted with. Additionally by taking the opportunity to look at previous challenging times, and then creating a plan that covers any previous issues and how they were dealt with, your plan will continue to improve. This will allow you to keep your business on track, ensure morale remains high for both employees and customers, and maintain profits.

For more information on how you can prepare for a natural disaster – specifically when it comes to tech and continuity – read our post, Tech Considerations for Natural Disasters & Their Role in Continuity.

Lock-in Versus Lock-out

Lock-in vs. Commuting during a Strike

Certain variables may warrant consideration of a “lock-in” scenario upon the onset of a union strike. These variables include:

  • Location of operations
  • Availability of resources and amenities in surrounding communities
  • Anticipated level of picket line aggression

The primary purpose of a lock-in is to reduce or eliminate the crossing of the picket line by salaried workers, temporary employees, or both, by establishing on-property accommodations and amenities. Most commonly, lock-ins are a short-term solution to unruly or mass picketing (read our advice on how to prepare for picketing), and once injunctions have been put into place and are actively enforced, all personnel are able to enter and leave the facility on a daily basis.

Lock-In of Temporary Strike Replacement Workers

Strom’s experience has shown that with proper planning and preparations, lock-in of temporary workers can usually be avoided, which translates to a cost-savings for our clients and a maintained high morale of Strom employees.

Lock-In of Salaried Personnel

The lock-in of salaried personnel presents unique challenges in maintaining morale of employees, which may affect safety and performance. It is crucial in a salaried lock-in scenario that clear assumptions and expectations are communicated to employees prior to lock-in, and that additional emphasis is placed on monitoring for any adverse affects the lock-in may generate. Remember, no salaried employee may be forced into a lock-in scenario or locked-in against his or her will.

Comparison of a Strike and Lockout

Contact us today to speak with a member of our leadership team. We would be happy to share some of our experiences regarding strikes and lockout situations.

According to Wikipedia, A lockout is a work stoppage in which an employer prevents employees from working. This is different from a strike, in which employees refuse to work. A lockout is purely a company decision and may happen for several reasons. When only part of a trade union votes to strike, the purpose of a lockout is to put pressure on a union by reducing the number of members who are able to work.

For example, if the anticipated strike severely hampers work of non-striking workers, the employer may declare a lockout until the workers end the strike. Another case in which an employer may impose a lockout is to avoid slowdowns or intermittent work-stoppages. Other times, particularly in the United States, a lockout occurs when union membership rejects the company’s final offer at negotiations and offers to return to work under the same conditions of employment as existed under the now-expired contract. In such a case, the lockout is designed to pressure the workers into accepting the terms of the company’s last offer.

Local versus National Workforce – Know the Difference

The difference between hiring temporary workers from your local labor pool and a national workforce is an important consideration, especially during a labor disruption or other crisis situation. Choosing a national workforce for temporary job replacement eliminates many issues that would arise with hiring local workers. For example, national temporary replacement workers are:

  • Known commodities with proven skills – many have worked for Strom in this capacity for 5, 10, or even 15 years
  • Disinterested in local worker issues
  • Well-disciplined and used to working in a less than desirable environment
  • Drug-tested, background checked, with certifications, licensing, and related documentation verified
  • Focused and productive

From our experience, here are the main points of difference:

Local workforce

Potential family conflict and job performance – Many local job replacement candidates live in, or grew up in, the area affected by the labor disruption and could potentially have family or friends affected by the work stoppage, which can lead to a negative atmosphere in the community, especially if a family member or friend is involved. Recruiting from Strom’s national database of candidates removes this potential problem. It is also much more likely that workers will be pulled away for personal matters when they have family close by, which might negatively affect attendance or performance.

Lack of resources and industry-specific experience – With the inevitable lack of resources using a small pool of local candidates, the speed at which the replacement workers can be recruited, deployed and available for an unexpected work stoppage, decreases, as opposed to using Strom’s national database of candidates. Additionally, it is much more difficult to find local workers with not only the appropriate job qualifications, but the industry-specific work experience your company needs. Strom’s workers have experience in a wide variety of industries and job classifications.

Stressful to company management – It is crucial that management has familiarity with workers’ work habits and personalities. When working with Strom Engineering, management can work with Strom Field Supervisors who manage the replacement workforce directly. This enables an easier transition for company personnel to cope with new work habits and personalities.

National workforce

Strom utilizes a national database of 25,000 – Choosing a national workforce eliminates many issues that come from local temporary workers. Strom has access to 25,000 skilled and industry-specific experienced workers. These workers are able to hit the ground running on day one of the work stoppage. Strom’s recruiting territory is not limited to a small area, rather from all over the U.S., with exact skill sets required by our clients.

Full-time recruiters of strike replacement labor – Strom has a full time recruiting staff that recruits only people who are skilled/experienced and supportive of crossing potentially hostile picket lines. Our philosophy is to ensure our workers’ main priority is to complete the project according to the requirements by our clients.

Supervisors trained in crossing picket lines – Local workers could potentially have to cross a violent picket line risking harm to their personal property. Using Strom’s workforce, crossing a picket line is made easier by driving in Strom personnel in Strom vehicles driven by picket line trained drivers who are familiar with the logistical challenges.

Strom workforce is more efficient – Our workforce is managed by a Strom Supervisor who acts as the liaison with company management. In most cases, a Strom workface can operate a facility with one-third less the workforce it takes the company to operate it. Many of the deployed Strom workforces have worked for Strom for years and our supervisors know the work habits and personalities of the individual workers. Supervisors handle all the daily management functions, time keeping, and human resources functions. To learn about how workforces from Strom can help, read more about the managed workforces we provide.

Permanent Versus Temporary Replacements

In the United States, under federal labor law, an employer may only hire temporary replacements during a lockout – not permanent replacements. An employer may legally hire permanent replacements during a strike, unless it is an unfair labor practice (ULP) strike. If the company hires permanent replacement workers anyway, and unfair labor practice (ULP) charges are upheld, the company can be penalized and federal contracts can be cancelled.

From the perspective of a labor and employee relations lawyer, here are the differences between using permanent versus temporary replacement workers:

Hiring temporary replacement workers is an advantageous move when the company is trying to keep the current workforce:

  • Hiring temps in a labor disruption situation saves relationships
  • Temp workers are a good staffing strategy in regions where there are not a lot of local skilled workers
  • Easily replaceable and good relationship with workers

When the company and union leaders have had extremely long disagreements over make-or-break issues, and a bad relationship with employees, a permanent replacement workforce would be advantageous. To learn about advantages to bringing on temporary workforces, read our other blog post, How Temporary Staffing Can Help.

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