NEW YORK NURSE: February 2008
by Mark Genovese
A “zipper” clause is a contract provision that means a union and management can’t force each other to engage in bargaining during the life of the contract.
Also called a “complete agreement” clause, these provisions exist because of federal labor law. The law requires parties to be willing to bargain when asked, even in mid-contract, if a subject isn’t covered in the contract and wasn’t withdrawn during negotiations.
“A zipper clause can prevent management from imposing changes in terms and conditions of employment that weren’t covered in the contract,” said Tom Darby, NYSNA labor representative.
A typical zipper clause would read: Both parties acknowledge that they had full opportunity during negotiations to make any demands and proposals. There is no obligation on either party during the life of the agreement to bargain collectively with respect to any matter, whether included or not included in this agreement, except as provided in this agreement.
Here’s an example of why this clause is needed. Management wants to offer incentive pay to nurses on a specific floor. The LBU executive committee is opposed to this because it’s unfair to other employees. But there’s no mention in the contract about incentive pay, and it wasn’t discussed in previous negotiations. Without a zipper clause, management could obligate the union to bargain incentive pay.
“If the contract had a zipper clause, in this case the union could say, ‘We don’t have to bargain,’” Darby said, “Management couldn’t implement the incentive pay because it’s illegal to act unilaterally.” Even if the union agreed to bargain, if the parties failed to reach an agreement, the clause would prevent management from imposing the changes.
Federal labor law requires employer and employee representatives to bargain over “wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” These are called mandatory subjects of bargaining. A contract proposal to include a zipper clause would comply with this requirement.
You may or may not have a zipper clause in your contract. Ask your LBU officers whether there is such a provision and whether it would be to your unit’s advantage to have one.