By L. W. MURRAY, JR.
Associate professor of management at Sangamon State University, he has experience as a negotiator, mediator, and arbitrator in the private and public sector in several states, including Illinois. Murray holds his Ph.D. from dark University.
Keys to understanding collective bargaining
Both sides must expect to compromise. Almost everything—unless barred by law—is negotiable. Bargaining units must be clearly defined. Bargaining should be factually based. Begin on noneconomic issues. Be sure to include grievance procedures in final pact
AT THIS WRITING the state of Illinois is considering the passage of a law permitting some or all public employees to bargain collectively with their public employers. Collective bargaining is a well-established form of conflict resolution in the private sector in Illinois, and its introduction and use in the public sector should not be regarded as an intrusion on the sovereignty of the public. Given this assumption, this article will outline several of the basic elements of the collective bargaining (CB) process in the public sector and lay out what I believe to be the essential groundrules for the success of the process.
In one sense bargaining in the public sector is an indirect process. The agreement reached by labor and management is not binding upon the "employer" until it is ratified finally by the governing body of the public constituency represented. Thus the process of CB in the public sector includes both lobbying as well as collective bargaining as requisite characteristics. The public bargainer must relate his or her contract proposals to the realities of dual acceptance, gaining agreement first at the contract table and then joining forces with the CB "opponent" to gain acceptance through ratification by the final governing body. This situation places severe hardships upon all connected because the "outwardness" of the CB process can seriously harm the "inwardness"; i.e., the actual bargaining. It becomes too easy to "play to the cameras," attempting to gain public support of a position in order to exert pressure on the final CB solution.
Therefore in an effort to make CB understandable to the novice public bargainer—both employee and employer—and considerably less frightening, I would offer the following suggestions:
Arriving at consensus
1. The primary purpose of CB is to serve as a means by which an agreement can be reached. It is a decision-making process in which both sides, beginning from varying positions, attempt to resolve their differences through compromise. It is critical to remember that compromise on both sides is absolutely necessary. Strikes, layoffs, lockouts, etc., should not be viewed as idle threats by either side. Therefore, to prevent chaos, compromise is the only workable solution short of forced compliance.
Does not mean failure
2. CB does not mean that format employee relations have failed. CB should be seen merely as an extension of employee relations programs. If the employee relations program is a good one, CB will be merely a method of formally contracting for good relations in the future. If the existing employee relations program is a poor one, CB will help by forcing both sides to state their positions objectively and develop an amiable working agreement.
Name of the game
3. In its rawest form, CB means that a/most everything (except those items exempted by law) is subject to negotiation. It has been my experience that both management and labor naively overlook the fact that "sacred cows can be slaughtered." This doesn't mean that they must be negotiated, but that they may become an element in the final solution. Therefore, the wise negotiator should take a hard look at his or her sacred cows and attempt to use them in bargaining for a better position.
4. CB should not proceed until the bargaining units and their negotiating agents are clearly defined. Although whatever legislation that is finally
November 1975/Illinois Issues/339
In the public sector, 'collective bargaining can best proceed if both sides present factual evidence for their positions'
passed will stipulate, however broadly, guidelines for determining bargaining units and agents, some pitfalls should be recognized. First, most state CB laws prohibit supervisors (however defined) from belonging to CB units containing their subordinates. However, it is extremely difficult to operationally define "supervisor," especially in public education where responsibility does not necessarily impart authority. This critical issue may even become the first item for negotiation. Secondly, most state laws (and federal as well) set only the broadest outlines for determining membership in bargaining units. The exclusion/inclusion of classes of employees (e.g., by type of work done, by skill, by location, etc.), unless narrowly defined by state law, can (and will) be a subject for negotiation.
Just the facts
5. CB should be factually based. Collective bargaining can best proceed if both sides present factual evidence for their positions. In the public sector, both labor and management have free access to financial operating figures:
Both sides should be equally informed. In most situations financial issues are usually concerned with: (a) the estimated total budget; (b) external parity or relative status of public vs. private wage rates, benefits, etc.; (c) internal parity or the relationship between the economic benefits received by separate employee groups within the bargaining unit; and (d) new issues or expanded benefits for which little or no financial experience has been, or can be, obtained. The dollar cost of all economic benefits negotiated for public employees must be appropriated and approved. Therefore, CB must result in recommendations solidly based on factual financial information. To insure this takes place, both sides should present their initial proposals early in the collective bargaining proceedings, and then exchange the factual background information upon which these proposals were made. In this way each side has access to the same information and will have a chance to examine, challenge, and supplement that data as necessary.
For example, one of the major stumbling blocks in negotiating one such agreement was the cost of providing dental care insurance coverage to all employees and their dependents. Both sides had asked for bids from many different insurance companies, and both refused to exchange this information. Despite the fact that both sides had bids from the same insurance companies, the bids differed substantially because the factual base supplied to the insurance companies by labor was different from that supplied by management. And, to make matters worse, each side refused to name the insurance companies on their proposed plans. This went on for five negotiating sessions—18 hours of discussion—until the futility of it became apparent to all concerned. With the facts presented fully, it took only 11 minutes to resolve.
The process of negotiation has little room for "grandstanding" and "demagoguery." It is a give-and-take proposition between two equally powerful parties. Negotiators, therefore, must have factual information on hand or be able to locate it quickly in order to substantiate a position. This requires that negotiators recognize: (a) the value of anticipating the other party's demands (and so being able to gather the data necessary to refute that stance); and (b) the value of "standardized" basic information. In this case, it is wise that standardized data be agreed on before the actual negotiations begin. Federal government statistics are commonly used because this data source is both consistent and documented. If you use your own "prepared" numbers, expect vigorous challenges. Wouldn't you challenge "their" numbers?
Start with easy one
6. Begin negotiations on non-economic issues. It has been my experience that from 50 to 90 per cent of the time spent in negotiations is spent "agreeing to agree." If the process begins with some mutual agreement on simply resolved issues that don't cost money (e.g., "the agency will celebrate the 4th of July on the 4th day of July" or "negotiation sessions will be no more than three hours in length and will be held every Monday evening from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.") an amiable pattern of agreement can often be established in this way that will prevail throughout the entire CB process.
Being quite specific
7. The final agreement should have carefully defined grievance procedures. It does little good to reach an agreement and then have no provisions made for adjudicating conflicts regarding how the agreement will be carried out. Most agreements involve a list of items that are the total responsibility of management (i.e., "management rights") and thus are not subject to grievance procedures. But in most of the other cases one party may feel that the other is not fulfilling the bargain. Who does what? Who resolves the conflict? The detailed answers to those questions should be contained in the agreement, or the parties will be forced back to the negotiation table to "redefine" the agreement at each contract interpretation disagreement.
Key is compromise
The collective bargaining process is an effective and challenging method of making labor/management decisions largely because two parties agree to agree. If both parties are prepared well and approach the process with the understanding that a compromise solution is possible and desirable, CB will be as effective as it can be. ¯
340/Illinois Issues/November 1975