Why traditional labor bargaining doesn't work and how we can fix it next time.

A good contract can’t be won solely at the bargaining table, but it can be lost there. These fixes have been “battle-tested” and have proven their worth.

1. Who’s in charge? - The employer can't be allowed to define the agenda, ground rules and issues. The union must aggressively seek high-moral-ground issues and pound away at them. The union has to dominate the agenda. It has to be better prepared that the employer. It has to reject efforts to close bargaining off from the membership.

2. Location - The employer tries to hide bargaining from the membership. The union should insist on at least every other session being held in or near a workplace where it can invite members to observe.

3. Who’s on the team - Bargaining a contract is the single most important thing a union does. Therefore, the key leaders of the union should have constituted the core of the bargaining team.

4. Size does matter - Large bargaining committees tend to intimidate management. The committee should have broad-based representation even if all members don’t come to the table at every meeting.

5. Keeping the members in the dark
- Bargaining reports should go out immediately after a session. Someone other than the chief negotiator should be designated to work on a report during bargaining. The report should then be edited and sent out the same day as the bargaining session. This task is one of the most important activities of the bargaining team.

6. Keeping the bargaining notes - The union must keep detailed notes. This should be done by a fast typist on a laptop at the sessions. Management, of course, will object. The notes are very important for future contract interpretations in an adversarial relationship.

7. Written proposals, not concepts - The union should present bargaining proposals in writing, with complete language, at every session. Even if the modifications are modest, they’ll keep management off balance. The union should have complete computerized documentation of every bargaining proposal and the current status of every article.

8. Bargain on our issues, not theirs - The union should hold firm on its key issues while not agreeing to odious proposals from the employer. If an impasse is to take place, it should be over something important and not just a few dollars. The point is to wear management down.

9. Anything goes - Decorum is a management trick. Bringing in groups of labor leaders for a session or having a permanent bargaining team member from another union shows unity and brings a broader perspective to negotiations. Packing the meeting with member-observers from time to time intimidates management. So does having a picket line with loud chants outside the meeting.

10. Bottom line - Bargaining is a process of give and take. They give and we take.

-Jim Smith