Ground Rules Checklist

This is a basic list of provisions to consider when negotiating over collective bargaining ground rules.

Ground rules are a very important aspect of successful collective bargaining. They set forth how parties will engage in bargaining. They establish what procedures will be used, as well as important rules for how bargaining disputes will be handled.

The failure to spend the time necessary to establish durable ground rules can greatly hamper bargaining. Ground rules are different based on whether the parties will engage in traditional or interest-based bargaining.

The following is a checklist for what provisions should be considered when negotiating over ground rules. You don’t need all these ground rules, but you need to select the ones that best apply to your bargaining.

  1. State what is being negotiated, a term agreement or midterm agreement and who are the parties to the agreement
  2. Establish chief negotiators and their roles and responsibilities with an understanding of the current case law on chief negotiators
  3. Number of bargaining team members with an understanding of the current case on the equal number of negotiators
  4. Use of non-employee bargaining team members – who they are and the rules for their use and access to the facility
  5. Whether there will be alternate negotiators and when alternates will be used
  6. Rules of behavior at the table – dealing with subjects such as civil discourse
  7. Confidentiality – how, when and to who information about bargaining can be shared
  8. Location for bargaining and who has responsibility for meeting space and logistics
  9. Schedule for bargaining including days and hours
  10. How and when proposals will be exchanged
  11. Whether traditional, interest based, or a mixed process will be used
  12. What does the use of an interest based bargaining process mean?
  13. How to change from one bargaining process to another 
  14. How does a mixed process work?
  15. If interest-based process how are of issues and interests exchanged
  16. When bargaining will commence
  17. Sequence of when articles will be bargained
  18. Length of period of time for bargaining
  19. Observers – if allowed and how many
  20. Face to face bargaining or by some other process such as video, computer application or a combination of processes 
  21. Use of subject matter experts (SMEs) – when can they used and do parties have to mutually agree on them
  22. Official time for bargaining and preparation
  23. Payment of travel and per diem for union negotiators
  24. Individual team note takers and/or common notetaker
  25. Use of computer/projector for negotiations – will proposals be projected on a screen or will written proposals on paper be used
  26. Caucuses – how many. How long and how called
  27. If interest based – will parties use a neutral facilitator for all or part of the negotiations
  28. Upon completion of negotiations on an Article– who sign offs and when will sign off occur 
  29. How and when FMCS and FSIP are requested- by whom or jointly 
  30. Use of private mediator/fact finder
  31. How negotiability disputes will be handled – at what point in the negotiations will negotiability appeals be filed and what happens when a negotiability appeal is resolved by the FLRA
  32. Ratification by union and Agency head review – time frame for when they take place
  33. Disputes over ground rules language – how resolved
  34. Severability – if there are outstanding negotiability issues can they be severed from the agreement and the remaining agreed upon article go into effect.
  35. Roll over articles – process for agreeing on articles from existing agreement which neither party is interested in reopening and when does it take place
  36. Limitation on the number of articles – mutual agreement on how many articles can be reopened. 
  37. Changes to the ground rules by mutual agreement – how can changes be made

This list is not exhaustive of all ground rules provisions I have seen. Various parties have practices which fit their situation but may not work for any other bargainers. You may have a practice of using a ground rule provision which works for you but may not work for anyone else.

As can be seen, there are many issues that can be negotiated concerning ground rules. Not all the issues on the checklist need to be made a part of your ground rules. However, when preparing ground rules, it may be of value to you to at least consider which ones may be helpful of your negotiation. 

About the Author

Joe Swerdzewski, former General Counsel of the FLRA & owner of JSA LLC is the author of The Essential Guide to Federal Labor Relations, A Guide to Successful Federal Sector Collective Bargaining, etc. For more info on JSA’s services, email or subscribe to JSA’s newsletter.