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Negotiation FAQs

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What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the term used to describe negotiations between a union and an employer if a union is certified as the exclusive bargaining representative of employees in a bargaining unit.

What is a collective bargaining agreement?

A collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) is a contract that is negotiated between an employer and a union. This document memorializes the working conditions, such as wages, benefits and hours of work, for employees in the bargaining unit covered by that particular CBA. 

Who negotiates the collective bargaining agreement?

If a majority votes in favor of union representation, the university and the union would establish their negotiating teams. 

How are negotiations conducted?

Generally, both the university and the union discuss their interests and priorities and exchange written proposals and counter-proposals for what they would like to include in a collective bargaining agreement. Although both sides are required to negotiate over “mandatory subjects of bargaining” in good faith, neither side is required to agree to a specific proposal. The union and the university would continue negotiations until a tentative agreement is reached on a CBA. The tentative agreement is then taken to a ratification vote of the union membership. 

What types of topics would be covered in a contract between Stanford and a union representing graduate students?

The NLRA requires bargaining over “mandatory subjects of bargaining.” This includes an obligation to bargain in good faith about wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Consistent with other institutions of higher learning that have graduate student unions, the university’s position is that mandatory subjects of bargaining do not include the university’s academic prerogatives, including admissions decisions, curriculum and degree requirements, organization of programs, evaluation of academic progress, and assignment of research and teaching assistant roles.

How long does it take to negotiate the first collective bargaining agreement?

It is difficult to estimate. However, negotiating a first contract can take significant time. We understand that, on average, it takes more than one year to negotiate a first contract.

Can changes be made now or while negotiations are ongoing?

The university is required to maintain the status quo concerning any matter that is considered a mandatory subject of bargaining. 

If a collective bargaining agreement is in place, can a school/department/PI vary from the terms of the collective bargaining agreement?

Both the university and the union have an obligation to adhere to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Any agreement to waive or vary from any term of a collective bargaining agreement requires the agreement of the union and the university. For any questions, please contact

What happens if a union and an employer are unable to reach an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement?

If a union and the employer cannot reach agreement on a collective bargaining agreement, normally the employer makes what is called a “last, best, and final” offer. Typically, the union will ask the union members to vote on the proposal. If the vote is to accept the offer, then the terms of the “last, best, and final” offer becomes the agreement. However, if the members of the bargaining unit reject the offer, then there is no agreement, and the union could decide to strike. Also, with or without a strike, if the parties are at “impasse,” the employer has the right to unilaterally implement its “last, best, and final” offer. If an employer takes this step, the parties are still obligated to continue negotiating in an effort to reach an agreement.