Editorial: Contract Printing 101

In my last article I wrote about all the steps that it takes to reach a deal and have a contract voted on by our membership.  I touched on just about everything from proposal meeting to the ratification vote, and with as much detail as I put in my last article, I’m sure I may have left a thing or two out.  But getting your contract from proposal meeting to a printed document in your hands goes quite a bit further than the vote.  There are many steps that go into printing your contract and I’m not sure everyone realizes why it sometimes takes as long as it does.

So, you’ve successfully ratified your contract.  Congratulations!  Now what?  Yes, printed contracts are typically there at the ratification vote for your reference, but not the new contracts, obviously.  They can’t be there.  The terms of your new contract actually don’t exist until you vote to approve them.  What you look at before you vote is what we call a Report to Members (or RTM).  This document is a summary of what your negotiating committee was able to achieve for you during bargaining and is based on the brand-new Memorandum of Agreement (or MOA).  The RTM is a simple two or three-page synopsis of the changes to your old, expiring contract.  In essence, the Report to Members plus your old contract equals your new contract.  And while you can take home (or to your job site) the Report to Members and reference that going forward, it is not your full contract.

Once the vote is finalized and we are clear to move forward, we typically take a previous Microsoft Word version of your contract and overlay the new MOA into it.  But we don’t just make the changes relevant to the new MOA.  That would be easy.  That would also be how mistakes are never caught and how things get overlooked.  We examine your contracts from cover to cover each time we are updating them.  You’d be surprised how many grammatical or formatting errors you can find if you comb through something that was written a long time ago, but it’s not just about finding mistakes.  There is outdated or redundant verbiage in many of our contracts that need to be cleaned up.  Take for instance the members that were hired prior to June 1st, 1945.  They get a $5.00 one-time bonus on February 29thevery leap year.  Sounds cool for them, right?  However, there is no one left that is still there from before that date.  You know how we know?  We check.  So that means that this particular clause or verbiage will never need to be in this contract again.  It pertains to no one, so why continue to have it in there contract after contract?  As the years go by, we check for these types of clauses and look to modify or remove them as needed.  If we didn’t, your contract book would be twice as big and filled with irrelevant information that you would have to sift through to get to what you are trying to find.  Not to mention the cost factor for printing that many unnecessary pages.

All of these changes and corrections take some time to complete.  Once we have a completed draft of the fresh new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement), the staffer here that does the changes sends it to the rest of the Union contract team for review.  Why, because six eyes are better than two that’s why.  Once the group feels confident about the document that was created, we send it to the respective company for their review and signature.  Easy breezy step, right?  No, wrong.  We typically send them the previous contract and the new contract, and now in most cases we send them a version with Track Changes on it so they can literally see everything that we did to revise the old contract into the new one.  They can click to accept each change and move onto the next one until the end and then voila!  We are looking at the same, agreed-to document.  Otherwise, Mr./Mrs. A. Company Representative Jr. will say, umm hey Joe, why is Article 13 in the old contract now Article 12 in the new contract?  And I’ll say that’s because we did away with the pre-1945 bonus pay clause and then renumbered the entire document from that point.  We have even moved into scheduling a Zoom meeting with Mr./Mrs. ACR, Jr. so we can review the track-changed document together and agree to each change, one by one.  Those meetings have become the smoothest way of sending and reviewing the new contract changes and get us much quicker to the point of signature.  Over Zoom, we can share our screen and explain all of the changes and the reasons why in real time.  It’s a super-efficient process compared to the old way which was an extremely long back-and-forth process.  But not all company representatives are that technologically savvy, so in some cases we’re still stuck doing it the old way for now. 

Sometimes the company employs an attorney to bargain their contracts for or alongside them.  In these cases, we need to send our contract changes to their attorney, who then reviews it and has their own back-and-forth process with their client.  That process takes on its own life and can take weeks or even months based on their schedules.  It’s a happy day here at 425 Merrick Avenue when we receive a signed contract from an Employer or their attorney. 

We have GOT to be getting close to you having a copy of the contact, right?  Well, we are getting closer, yes.  Now it’s time to engage our printer (who also prints this article and this whole paper, so I need to make sure I’m extra nice).  We send our new, proudly signed contract to our printer and ask him to format it into book form and send us a draft of the final product.  This is a delicate process because once we give him the green light, it exists the way it is.  So, we have to make sure he has everything he needs, like our updated logo, and an accurate table of contents, and the correct cover color, and a certified Spanish translated version of the CBA (eso es correcto, el contrato viene), and a host of other requirements.  Once the printer sends back a draft of the cover and interior text, guess what we do?  Read it cover to cover, you are correct.  Sometimes with our revisions, paragraphs line up a little wonky, so there is a back-and-forth process with the printer as well, with each time him sending a new, complete draft for us to review.  I’ve been known to spot something that doesn’t sit well with me on a print-draft and go back and ask that company representative to approve a last-minute modification to the verbiage.  Get them to sign off or initial the change, then back to the printer for yet another draft.  We have to get these things right people. 

Then, based on our current and protracted membership numbers for that company, we give the printer a number of copies we are looking for.  For a company with 500 members and a slow turnover, we may only order a few hundred more.  For a company like Stop & Shop with 7,500 members and thus a much higher turnover, we may order a lot more.  We also must consider the length of the contract.  A 3-year deal typically calls for fewer initial copies than a 5-year deal.  But once we’ve got the template our printer is great with making more copies as needed.  Thanks Dave, you’re the best.

So, when you consider the steps involved in going from old contract to new…

  1. Proposal meeting and electing/choosing committees 6. Ratification vote process
  2. Scheduling bargaining dates and gathering information 7. Drafting up new CBA from old one
  3. Negotiating 8. CBA review with company
  4. Drafting and signing MOA 9. Printing process
  5. Writing an RTM for the vote 10. Delivering them to your hands

…there is little wonder why this process is long and daunting. And when you consider that we’ve done this exact process at least 25 separate times over the past 18 months, you can see why we have been extremely busy.  I should probably stop writing now and get started on my next contract project.  Until next time!

Thank you for your membership!