ICYMI: 10 Things I Hate About Bargaining

Reported by Amanda Pelsor
Panelists: David Braun, Attorney, Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd.; Kyle Freeman, Ph.D., Superintendent, Washington CHSD 308 
Collective bargaining is like marriage, because you are living with the other party, and there really is no easy way out. But, like marriage, collective bargaining is also about giving a little and getting a little. 

It’s all about keeping the pendulum in the middle because if it swings too hard one way, it will swing back pretty hard the other way. If you know the rules of collective bargaining it can be fun, because the goal is to solve problems; and solving problems is why you joined your local school board. Many people hate collective bargaining because there is a fear that we are about to give something up. If you know the rules and stay focused on the targets, you should not have anything to fear. As presented in the panel session “10 Things I Hate About Bargaining: Trends in Collective Bargaining for the 2022 Season” at the Joint Annual Conference, here are 10 rules to bargaining — and why you shouldn’t hate them.
Mandatory Subjects include wages, hours, and terms and conditions of bargaining. Terms and conditions can be nearly everything. If things are impacting your employees, it is going to impact them whether you are bargaining for it or not. You shouldn’t hate bargaining because you can implement your will over impasse or agreement with a mandatory subject.
Status Quo is either language already in the contract or past practice. Past practice is a pattern of conduct, not a single instance, recognized by both parties. Status quo cannot be changed except by collective bargaining. You should not hate bargaining the status quo because you have lived with it, but bargaining provides an opportunity to understand why it happened.
The board’s power comes through patience, not persistence. Well-spaced meetings at reasonable times produce the least emotional results. Be careful not to rush the union. Remember,  the board controls the pace early in the process, and the union controls it late in the process. 
Humanity is vital in collective bargaining. It is important to resist the urge to be emotional about what you are “giving up” during negotiations and to be nice. Don't hate bargaining, because the union is people who educate our children. 
Money doesn’t last — language does. Every new piece of language handicaps the board, not the union. The board has the rights to enforce what it needs to, but the language in the contract serves the union. You shouldn’t hate bargaining because tight, careful language prevents misunderstandings which can lead to lawsuits.
Oftentimes a board’s instinct is to say “no” to proposals, but sometimes creativity can help solve a mutual problem. For example, if a union wants insurance and the board doesn’t want to give it, the solution may be something other than insurance — money is money, security can be invested in many different forms. You shouldn’t hate bargaining because creativity can sometimes solve the real problem in a better way than the solution.
Working Groups can be beneficial for complex issues. These can be tough to solve at the bargaining table because it is a tough place to truly understand the depth of an issue. Working groups are a great way to encourage open thought without worrying about losing ground. Don't hate bargaining, because working groups can be structured to accomplish listening without the pursuit of positions.
Consider your spokesperson. Speaking succinctly and clearly are skills that the board and union may or may not have. Disinterest can be a positive characteristic, which is why it can be beneficial to consider outside help. Experts have more experience negotiating, and they also have the benefit of providing perspective and neutrality. You shouldn’t hate bargaining because experts can lead to lower emotions and a better outcome. 
Like it, love it, or hate it, politics are part of the bargaining process. The union goes first, sharing their demands. The board then responds, but should also have its interests heard as well. Remember that the board cannot negotiate directly with members, only with the union proper. You shouldn’t hate bargaining, because the union is your partner and can help frame the issues, and share responsibility.
Rules are a permissive subject, so they cannot be imposed. It is important to consider how you bargain, and to remember that bargaining is fundamentally an adversarial process even when the parties are chasing the same ends. You shouldn’t hate bargaining rules because the solution to the problem will be defined as much by how you will negotiate as by what you negotiate.
Amanda Pelsor is Director of Technology & Innovation for Brookfield-LaGrange Park SD 95 and was a participant in the Educational Administrator Internship program at the 2022 Joint Annual Conference. ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) features panel reports from the Conference. Reporters are participants in the Educational Administration Intern program, a collaboration of IASB and the Illinois Council of Professors of Educational Administration.