Once your union gets recognized, it's time to start collective bargaining. Committees distribute a bargaining survey to the entire unit in order to develop initial proposals that best reflect the membership’s priorities and needs. Having a clear sense of member stakes is essential before heading to the negotiating table. So, what goes into a bargaining survey?
Writing the survey
Quantitative questions will give the committee data on overall priorities. Here are some quantitative question examples:
1. Rank the following priorities in terms of compensation:
a. Guarantee annual salary increases
b. Increase or establish salary minimums by job title
c. Increase or establish employer retirement contribution
d. Increase or establish stipends or reimbursements (cell phone, daycare, wellness, gym)
2. How satisfied are you with your current health benefits on a scale of 1-5 (1 = very dissatisfied, 5 = very satisfied)
3. Rank your priorities on non-economic issues:
a. Create a diversity committee
b. Establish anti-harassment policy
c. More transparency from management
d. Opportunities for advancement and promotions
e. Establish just cause for discipline and termination
Qualitative questions give people a chance to share information that might not be captured elsewhere in the survey. Answers can also elevate issues and stories that might otherwise go unheard. For example
1. Please describe any experiences related to diversity and equity you think should be addressed
2. Please describe a time when management implemented a policy that negatively impacted you. What happened and what could have gone better?
3. If you said that you are dissatisfied with the health insurance, please elaborate on your issues and concerns
The survey shouldn’t be so long that people don’t fill it out, but don’t be afraid to think about what other information would be helpful. Collecting demographic information, asking for ideas for union events, or assessing people’s awareness of Weingarten Rights can all be useful to include.
The survey is a chance to engage people and get them thinking about how workplace issues could be addressed. It’s important to be ambitious going into negotiations, but the survey should ask people about things that are within the realm of what is possible to win.
Every unit member should receive the survey (including bargaining committee members), unless this is a renegotiation and there are people on staff who have not joined the union. Encourage everyone to fill out the survey, even if they don’t want to be involved or have been anti-union, the contract will cover them and impact their working conditions. You may not get 100% participation, particularly in large units, but that should be the goal.
Distributing an electronic survey (google forms, surveymonkey, etc) will make analysis easier because you won’t have to tally up results by hand and it’s easily distributed to people in different locations or work schedules. But there’s nothing wrong with a paper survey, if that’s the preference!
It’s important to give people a deadline to submit the survey (roughly usually 1-2 weeks) and to send multiple reminders. There should be enough time for people to fill it out but not so much time that people put it off forever. Get the word out through email, signs in the office, one-on-one conversations, and social media. Every union activity is a chance to build visibility in the workplace and engage members. In a shared physical space, you might host an after-hours union meeting and encourage people to fill out the survey together (over snacks, of course).
Let people know that all responses will be seen by bargaining committee members but will not be shared with management. Asking people to include their name on the survey will help you track who has filled it out but, more importantly, it’s an exercise to help normalize talking about workplace issues. Members will likely need to take action to win their priorities. Sharing experiences with the bargaining committee is a very small step towards that.
Ideally, the survey results will give your negotiating committee a sense of where there is a clear mandate (eg: 95% of people want to establish salary minimums) and where you need more information (eg: only a few people rated parental leave as a top priority).
The survey will inform initial proposals and can also be a crucial tool further down the line when the committee has to start making decisions about what to prioritize and what to pull from the table. The survey doesn’t take the place of ongoing conversations and assessments, of course, but, when you’re in the weeds, remembering that only 25% of the unit cares about gym reimbursements can be very useful.
The survey is most important for committee members to use in developing bargaining proposals and priorities, but it can also be a useful tool for member engagement. For example, sharing the results (aggregated and anonymized) in a member meeting can help to demystify the process and show people that their issues and priorities are shared by their colleagues.
Survey says...time to bargain!
Strong contracts require unit participation and a survey is the first step! You should tailor the bargaining survey to your workplace and can refer to examples, like these from Teamsters and UFCW. Organize with Unit and our advisors will help you design your bargaining survey.