Nine Key Tactics for Successful Union Negotiations

Bill Myhre
Posted: 01/11/2010

With recent market volatility and most pension plans in the red, Unions are looking to employers for greater contributions to offset losses. Despite the apparent burden this places on employers, it nevertheless provides a great deal of leverage for organizations to seek concessions from those Unions.

Whether for-profit, not-for-profit, public, or private, the prevailing environment has enabled negotiations that provide cost-saving solutions that must be explored.

Bill Myhre, Chief Human Resources Officer from Manhattan Physician Group shares nine tactics that organizations can effectively use in union negotiations.

1. Prepare, prepare, listen, learn and achieve.

Negotiations revolve around a set of needs driven by a number of employee constituencies.

To understand the different employee groups that create constituencies can help in understanding the future negotiating tactics used in negotiations.

2. Constituent Services—yes, it is like being a member of Congress. HR is about constituent services, with many competing constituencies.

Prior to negotiations there are many opportunities to learn the needs of your staff and score successful outcomes in meeting their needs, to be seen be heard and deliver.

Meeting the needs of your staff/constituents builds a bridge of trust.

3. Laying out the grid of the organizations culture.

When you build upon employee successes you need to celebrate those successes with a broader group, developing a culture focused upon the big picture.

The efforts to celebrate demonstrate success to a broader audience, creates a new set of positive expectations that says we can work together, we get rewarded together.

4. Formal feedback combined with delivering constituent services.

While you achieve incremental success for your constituents, implement formal feedback mechanisms.

Formal feedback systems like employee opinion surveys also clarify large issues and smaller issues upon which the organization can create action plans, involve staff in the solution, and create more opportunity to create a learning team workplace.

5. The strategic thinking leading up to negotiations.

Using all the constituent data you have collected, paint a picture of what has been changed for the better and what the organizational leaders need from the Union.

Meet with your management colleagues to brainstorm the wish list for negotiations and cost them out with Finance.

6. Internal "horse trading" now begins among management and you are the lead negotiator.

Create a real list of items that you need for meeting the vision/values of the organization.

Rank those items in terms of priority; you have the "must haves," the "these would be nice, but" and the "I can put this out and toss it later."

7. Remember, this is a marathon process, not a sprint.

Your experience in all the constituency building continues during the give and take of collective bargaining—opening proposals are that and subject to change/modification.

The opening proposals, just that, don’t show all your cards, keep some fuel in reserve.

8. Formal negotiations, breakout sessions and back-door communications.

What happens at the table if you reach the inevitable stalemate, go to breakout.

Rework, modify and go back with alternate proposal, keeping in mind your ultimate needs. Make sure your colleagues are available at quick notice to provide data.

9. Union Membership dues and constituent needs.

All Unions need to sustain their existence through member dues.

In the end the Union needs an agreement that they can sell to their constituents and maintain their membership, they are moved by this need to get to "a deal."

Bill Myhre
Posted: 01/11/2010

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