The bargaining brief is a written document that provides proposals for amending the collective agreement. These proposals outline changes to the terms and conditions of the agreement and establish each party’s bargaining positions. A bargaining brief also acts as a standing record of the terms and conditions that have been proposed by either party during the negotiations process. The parties are able to see where they might agree on changes and where they will have to negotiate to see changes.
There are different styles or formats for a bargaining brief. Some simply propose ideas to the opposite party instead of specific changes to the collective agreement. This brings the opportunity for the parties to draft language together, which can sometimes foster better buy-in and increase the likelihood that an idea will be accepted into the collective agreement. Other briefs offer precise language that a party would like to adopt into the collective agreement as it is written. These tend to be more precise. In either case, the proposals contained in bargaining briefs guide the process and pace of bargaining.
Written words are important in bargaining. Outside of the collective bargaining cycle, the parties are responsible for maintaining the language in the collective agreement. The written words are what the parties agree to when reaching a deal, not necessarily the intentions behind the words. Over time, sometimes the parties have differing views on what the language in the agreement means, and this can lead to disputes and grievances.
Capturing the ideas and intent of the words as clearly as possible is another reason why the bargaining brief is such an important document. The words written into the contract are those that an arbitrator would interpret if there was a dispute on the intent or meaning of the contract. If the intentions of the parties at bargaining are not clearly reflected in the written language the parties end up agreeing to, an arbitrator may not interpret it as intended.
In the next issue: How does collective bargaining start?