First, bargaining is very public. Members know what’s happening at the table, which is novel enough. The tradition in North American labor relations has long been to bargain in private; members are brought in when an impasse or a tentative agreement is reached. Employers prefer it this way. GM CEO Mary Barra confirmed this on September 29 in her statement on negotiations, asserting that “serious bargaining happens at the table, not in public.”
This approach has been challenged in recent years, not least by Jane McAlevey’s advocacy of big, open bargaining as a key source of union power. In her approach, members are not only informed but actively involved in the strategic discussions around bargaining. Their engagement lends the effort more power by demonstrating unity, harnessing their creativity and knowledge, and preventing employers from being able to frame what’s happening in bargaining, because everyone is watching.