Collective Bargaining 5: Bargaining Techniques
The collective bargaining process is an art, not a science. Collective bargaining, unlike a science, you can do the same things in the same ways and get different outcomes each time. As artists may use the same tools and elements, no two of their creations turn out the same. However, there are some basic bargaining techniques that should be adhered to. In this section, some of the major techniques and tactics of actual bargaining sessions are discussed. There is no formula for effective negotiations, but there are many broad issues about which the union bargaining committee should agree with respect to meetings with the management committee.
Control of the agenda
Collective bargaining is a matter of power. Power relationships within or between organizations are more than matters of economic position. They are often determined by behavioral or psychological factors. Some understanding of how power is exercised is critical to the union's preparation for bargaining.
Power is in part a function of equality and authority. If one person concedes authority to another, the first person has given the second a source of power. In bargaining, the union has the right and responsibility to deal with the representatives of the employer as equals. While the typical workplace is built on principles of authority and subordination, the bargaining process is not. When union members leave the shop floor to negotiate with the company, they are no longer in a position of subordination to the managerial authority of the employer. This can be a very difficult shift in dynamics, for the people on both sides of the table, to navigate and/or maintain throughout the collective bargaining process.
Control of the agenda is an exercise of power. In bargaining sessions with the employer's representatives, the union must not concede control of the agenda to the employer. Control of bargaining sessions may be either explicit or implicit, and the union committee should take care not to lose such control either way. One concrete method for maintaining control of the agenda is to make sure that the union speaks through a single, primary spokesperson. Focusing union power through a single point transmits the appearance of control and power. Having an internal as well as an external communications strategy and plan will ensure the appropriate updates are getting out to the membership as well as community partners. Any void in communications will be filled with rumor and speculation.
How the union organizes its internal work can consolidate or undermine its position of power with respect to the employer. Although there should be a single, primary spokesperson, all work of the committee should be distributed among the committee members in an equitable and rational manner. No power is derived from the presence of someone without responsibility.
The appearance of power is power. If there is internal conflict among members of the union bargaining committee, the sources of that conflict should be dealt with away from the bargaining table. The sessions with management should reflect a unified union position. Do not attempt to resolve internal conflict in the presence of management, but always look for signs indicating a lack of unity on the management committee.
Internal procedures for calling caucuses, reviewing proposals, reaching a tentative agreement, and communicating among committee members should be resolved prior to the first meeting with the management committee. Since there are often new members on bargaining committees or teams, it is advisable to discuss the role that caucuses plan and how the committee or team will deal with them well before bargaining begins. Avoiding surprises creates credibility. Each phase of bargaining should be handled in a manner that conveys to the management committee a sense that the union committee is well-organized, unified, and participatory.