Collective Bargaining 3: Effective Negotiations

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Background information

Background information

It is impossible to do an effective job of negotiations with management without adequate preparation prior to the earliest bargaining sessions. This section addresses many of the specific tasks that need to be accomplished prior to the first bargaining session with management.

Size and selection of the bargaining committee

The actual size and selection of a bargaining committee will depend on the constitution and by-laws of the organization, the size and complexity of the bargaining unit and interests of the union. There needs to be enough representation on the committee that the tasks of the committee will be accomplished, but not so many people that will lead to difficulties in maintaining unity and order in the bargaining process. Committees with five to seven members are generally large enough to control the work of the committee without overburdening those members.

Whether a bargaining committee is elected or appointed, there are specific tasks that should be distributed among the members. One person should generally serve as the chief spokesperson for the committee. While that does not mean that other members will never speak, it does help to assure that the union committee is able to present a controlled presence in the bargaining sessions.

In addition to a chief spokesperson, one member should be specifically designated as the recorder or recording secretary for the committee. All members of the committee should be encouraged to take notes on the discussions with the company, but one person should be given major record keeping responsibility.

Although much of the attention in bargaining is focused on the work of the bargaining committee, there are other functions within the local union that can and often are organized to support the bargaining process. There may, for example, be a secondary level of activists that are charged with the responsibility for providing an effective liaison between the committee and the rank and file. Sometimes this group functions as an internal advisory body to assist the bargaining committee or as a communications committee to assure that information reaching the shop floor is accurate and appropriate. In other situations, there may be a committee charged with filling the same role with respect to media and community relations.

In all situations, it is important to remember that the process of bargaining goes beyond the closed doors of the actual meetings between the union and employer bargaining committees. A local may develop innovative ways to assure that support functions are addressed effectively, but some form of internal support system will almost always be useful.

Personal qualities

There is no litmus test of personal qualities that make a person an effective negotiator. Generally, a union benefits from having a mixture of experienced and new negotiators on a committee but this is neither essential nor always possible. Experienced negotiators bring to the process the benefit of that experience while new negotiators may contribute innovation and creativity to a process that often becomes stagnant and predictable.

Knowledge of conditions of work and the interests of the membership is clearly relevant to effective negotiations. Other characteristics that are often associated with effective negotiators include:

  • Patience, guts
  • Personal credibility, stamina
  • Persuasiveness, objectivity
  • Timing, imagination
  • Tact, self-confidence
  • Flexibility, creativity

Of all characteristics that one can bring to the bargaining process, perhaps the most important is self-awareness and self-knowledge. There is no style or form of negotiations that is correct. If a person understands their own personality and style of interpersonal interactions, that person will probably be able to use that style effectively in negotiations.

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