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Bloomberg Law Survey: Employers Expecting Tradeoff With Unions

June 3, 2019, 9:55 AM

This article is based on data and analysis generated by Bloomberg Law’s Analysis team.

Most employers with union contracts expiring in 2019 expect their workers to have the upper hand in wage negotiations, according to Bloomberg Law’s annual Employer Bargaining Objectives survey. But when the issue of health care hits the bargaining table, most employers are confident that they, not labor, will be the ones gaining concessions.

Now in its 34th year, the annual survey gauges unionized employers’ confidence levels, describes the terms of their current contracts, and identifies their ‘‘wish lists’’ and priorities as they prepare to renegotiate contracts with the labor unions that represent their employees.

Here are some key findings from the 2019 report, which summarizes the survey responses from 114 participating employers across a broad array of industries and regions.

Bargaining Confidence Remains High in 2019

Almost all responding employers said they were either “fairly confident” or “very confident” about achieving their bargaining goals this year. This is a consistent trend in the data collected in this survey: Employers are nearly always confident that they will achieve their objectives in overall bargaining.

What they actually walk away from the bargaining table with is another story, and varies by type of benefit.

Employers Seem Willing to Budge on Wages …

With the backdrop of a strong economy and tight labor market, the majority of employers (59%) are willing to make concessions on pay in 2019 labor negotiations.

What this means in terms of dollars and cents is that employers intend to be a bit more generous about raises this year compared with last year, continuing a nearly decade-long post-recession trend of gradually loosening the purse strings. About three-quarters of management representatives (74%) will propose first-year pay increases in the range of 2% to 3.9% That’s up from 64% in 2018, and the highest mark since 2002.

…But Health Care Is Another Story

On the surface, concessions on pay seem to put money in employees’ pockets. But if management gains concessions on health care, that money may come straight back out again, in the form of higher premiums, deductibles, or out-of-pocket maximums.