Collective Bargaining Basics

Collective bargaining is the process through which representatives of a union and an employer meet, in good faith and at reasonable times, to negotiate mandatory subjects of bargaining.

Each side picks its own representatives for negotiations. The union decides how it selects the people who will bargain on its behalf. Some unions hold an election to select members of its bargaining committee but others do not.

“Bargaining in good faith” means that each party considers the proposals submitted by the other side. It does not mean that one side must agree to a given proposal. In fact, during this process, neither side can force the other to agree.

Collective bargaining frequently takes months or even years—especially if it is the first time the two parties are working together. While these negotiations are active, the two parties are in a period called “status quo,” which means that, in general, changes to the current working environment cannot be made.

If representatives from both sides reach an agreement—called a “collective bargaining agreement” (CBA)—that agreement binds both parties. The only issues that make it into the CBA are issues that are eligible for bargaining and that both parties agree on.

Union Can Bargain Over: Union Cannot Bargain Over:
  • stipends
  • benefits
  • “working conditions”*

* The PLRB and Pennsylvania courts have never defined this for graduate students whose teaching and research are part of their academic training.

  • budget and allocation of funds
  • technology use
  • programs offered 
  • managements rights 
  • selection of students for academic appointments 
  • direction of students with academic appointments
  • standards of service 
  • admission decisions
  • academic requirements and academic decisions 
  • the number of academic appointments
  • programmatic decisions


There is no way to predict what proposals will be made in bargaining. It is up the union to decide what kind of proposals to make in the bargaining process, and it is up to the union to decide what kind of input they get from members of the bargaining unit.

CBAs are typically subject to ratification by members of the bargaining unit. However, the union may limit voting on the CBA to dues-paying members.

Once the CBA is approved, it applies to all members of the bargaining unit. Members of the bargaining unit cannot separately negotiate over stipends, benefits, or working conditions; they are bound by the terms of the CBA. There is no way to opt out of the CBA.

More information on the collective bargaining process is available in this website's FAQs.