If you are representing Management in negotiating a union contract, here are the 6 most important points to make it a success.
Know What You Want – It is amazing how many management teams enter a union negotiation not having worked out ahead of time what they are trying to accomplish. You need to have a detailed plan before you start of exactly what you want each point of the final contract to look like. Write it down, and make sure the union never sees that document.
Prepare for a Strike – Of course you don’t want a strike, but you have to realize that sometimes a company needs to weather a strike rather than accept a particular demand. If you decide ahead of time that you can never afford a strike then the union can get anything it wants by simply threatening to strike. Decide ahead of time what items the company will compromise on and which items you will never accept even at the cost of a strike.
Don’t Get Emotional – The laws and customs regarding labor negotiations are not the same for the union and management. Labor is allowed to behave with “focused enthusiasm” , while management is always expected to “bargain in good faith.” The term “focused enthusiasm” means that periodically the Labor representatives may scream, use profanity and possibly even jump up and down at the negotiating table. I was in one negotiation where the Union representative did all 3 simultaneously. The important thing to remember is that while the company is a business, the union is a political organization. In order to get re-elected, the union reps have to convince their members that they are really fighting for the workers. Sometimes that means putting on a big show of yelling at management.
Know The Labor Law – If you are not sure, then bring a labor attorney with you to the bargaining table. Otherwise, a minor slip of the tongue can spell disaster. For example if the union wants a high raise, a management person might want to say, “the company can’t afford that”. If you ever say “the company can’t afford that”, then according to labor law the company is “pleading poverty.” Once a company pleads poverty during a negotiation, then the union has the right to completely examine the all the confidential books of the company to see if that statement is true.
Let The Union Think It Won – Once a tentative contract is reached, the union reps have to sell it to their members for ratification. You need labor to feel it got a good deal. Don’t go around making press releases of how you “beat” the union. In fact, don’t say anything at all. Let the union do all the talking about what a great contract they got. Remember, you are just interested in the monetary results. The union needs to get the political win.
Respect the Union and the Workers – This is perhaps the most important point of all. When the contract is signed and ratified, you all have to go back to work together to make the company a success. The management team needs to treat the union and the workers with respect throughout the negotiations, no matter how hostile the union gets. As elitist as it sounds, management needs to operate on a higher level. A year or two after the contract is signed the workers and union reps may not even remember the exact wording of different clauses in the contract. But they will remember if you personally insulted them.
I have represented Management in numerous successful union negotiations, and I hope these guidelines help you in yours.