|Hearing What The Union Negotiator
Is Really Saying
by Ken B. Godevenos
Recently, when asked to lead the negotiations for a particular client, I asked to see the documentation from the last time around. To my pleasant surprise I learned they actually utilized a stenographer to provide transcripts of the meetings between the parties. Providing me with some incredible reading material, the transcripts also helped me notice what some of the union bargaining tactics really were. These were tactics I had experienced before, but never had the opportunity to analyze until now, when I had them before me in black and white. What I discovered in that analysis helped me and my clients understand some of the real dynamics of union negotiating.
Here are some of the tactics:
1. Union wording for new language proposals is often very general. It would be preferable if union negotiatiors were more specific. The way they present things is often a tactic of unions to see what they can get away with, or sometimes it is a sign of failing to to do their homework. They clearly want to be somewhat grey in their approach but always want management to be very transparent in its.
2. Unions often pursue what I call “compounding” opportunities. In one case, a union wanted overtime premium rates to apply to shift premiums. That way, they would be getting extra money for “overtime work” and for when the overtime was actually worked. If the shift premium was $1 an hour on a $10 wage, and the employee stayed for overtime at time and one half, her wage would be $15 per hour plus the $1 shift premium. What this union tried to get was $15 an hour plus $1.50 shift premium. While the overtime makes sense given labour laws, the overtime rate on the premium does not since that $1 is not paid for fact that one is working overtime, but rather that they are working non-regular hours, i.e. their shift.
3. Unions like to suggest that premiums and allowances always be a percentage (usually of the base rate). They argue this will simplify matters and will not require further negotiations. They’re right. What they do not tell you is that every increase in salary you give from now to eternity in future negotiations, you have also given away increases in those premiums and allowances. Avoid this approach at all costs. Otherwise, you are not getting any credit for this or anything in return in the years ahead.
4. Unions often want all overtime to be voluntary, especially since “slavery was abolished years ago”. True. But be careful. There may come a time when you must have employees around to complete a job and most jurisdictions allow for a certain amount of overtime hours to be compulsory. Do not give away that right readily.
5. Unions also often pursue clauses that will “cost you nothing”. They are right: some things will cost you nothing but they forget to add the word “now” to their claim. A good example is a union request to have the company automatically pick up any government provided benefit that is discontinued in the future.
6. I cannot count the number of times that unions have responded to a management agenda item at negotiations with, “Are you having any problem with it now? If not, why bother to change things?” Again, perhaps true, but remember to use that same argument with them.
7. Another strong tactic: “We want to change this clause because while we trust the current management, we can’t guarantee who’ll be there after you guys are gone.” They use the common union statement, “All the people in management now are nice, but when those nice people leave. . . .” How sweet. Standard fare for unions. Our response is, “We’re negotiating for here and now – if you have a real problem example tell us, if not, let’s move on.” Or, “We’re negotiating for the here and now. We’ll let you negotiate for the future with others. Besides, can you guarantee us that your next set of negotiators and union representatives will be as nice as you are?”
8. At the beginning of negotiations, one union leader said, “Remember these are our negotiations: we give you the proposals.” I suggest that we be aware of their philosophy here. In fact, it is the negotiation of both the parties, not just theirs and that is what negotiation means.
9. One union leader actually said, “These are negotiations. Things do get heated. I am here to represent the members. They are the people I am here to represent. As far as I am concerned, that is the number one issue. If we can do it quietly, great.” I would suggest you remind people like him that you represent the company’s interests and whether they believe it or not, the interests of the employees in the long run – ensuring that there is a company at which they can work.
10. Unions often like to say, “Our members.” Management’s response should always be, “they may be your members, but they are our employees.”
11. Then there is the union message of, “Can’t say when we’ll meet again because I just don’t have my calendar with me.” There is not too much to interpret there. The union negotiator is either unprofessional, disorganized, or likes to play games. Sooner or later in the process you may need to read the riot act. However, do be careful. She may be trying to get your goat.
12. Another tactic is to refuse to place negotiable items in packages. For example, unions often want to settle the duration of the contract first before they settle the wage increases, or vice-versa. When they settle one, they can easily wear you out on the other. On the other hand you should clearly be pursuing packages, especially in these areas.
13. Finally, because monetary items are usually negotiated after other terms, unions love to argue about what is a monetary item and what is not. They determine that based on preference, convenience, or how well they feel they are doing with negotiating an item at any given time. However, management needs to remember that just because the union calls something non-monetary, it still has the right to call it monetary, and vice-versa. The secret is not to argue about it. Instead, just keep responding to it on your schedule and under your desired category, not theirs.As you study your own set of negotiations, you will come up with many more examples of union negotiating tactics. The more you can recognize, the better you can prepare your team to pursue win-win situations without giving away the ship.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ken Godevenos is President of Accord Resolution Services Inc. He has negotiated over 80 collective agreements on behalf of management clients. He may be contacted at email@example.com, through his website www.accordconsulting.com, or at (905) 853-6228.
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