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Collective bargaining is the process in which a group of workers comes together and negotiates the terms of their contracts with one voice. Making their demands, together. Making a promise that whatever is offered to one will be rejected unless it is offered to all.

Sounds simple, right?

But the process demands much — it requires dedication, hard work, preparation, and trust in your fellow worker.

This past week, delegates from across the country came together for the UAW’s Special Bargaining Convention. We put together 40 resolutions on which we will build the foundation of our contracts. We prepared for our negotiation process, which requires every contract to come to a membership vote.

Our union represents people in almost every sector of the American economy. We work for over 1,000 employers, under 1,600 different contracts. Here is where our Special Bargaining Convention is unique — even though we represent so many diverse parts of the work force, we don’t develop proposals for each contract, not even the major national level contracts. Instead, we collectively devise an agenda which will become the basis of every contract that is negotiated on behalf of all of the members of the UAW. This is what we are about as a union.

Collective bargaining isn’t just about wages or health care, vacations days or profit sharing. It is also about protecting workers from violence in the workplace. Making sure that our contracts are addressing the fallout from the growing opioid crisis. Because collective bargaining doesn’t take place in a vacuum, it is able to address the real and evolving lives of workers.

Collective bargaining levels the playing field. Want equal pay for women? Join a union. Want a wage that is, on average, 10 percent higher? Join a union. Want paid sick leave? Join a union.

Collective bargaining ensures more than just profit sharing, it ensures progress sharing.

Because what is fought for and achieved through collective bargaining becomes what is possible for other workers.

Collective bargaining takes place across the world. It is considered a fundamental human right. It is democratic, a function of self-government, by which workers come together to demand a voice in the process of establishing the rules that govern them. Workers come together and demand parity and equality.

Collective bargaining is not a new thing; workers realized during the Industrial Revolution that they could not beat management in a one-on-one fight. It is about leverage. It is about knowing that a whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.

Gary Jones is president of UAW International Union.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.

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