I will be serving on my union’s negotiating team for our next contract. There will be six of us negotiating with three representatives of the administration. Both sides have agreed to a new approach in negotiations called MTB or Modified Traditional Bargaining. Normally bargaining is very adversarial. Each side has their ideas of what they want and then negotiations are literally both sides battling it out.
This new method is a more collaborative approach. Issues are framed as problems, not positions. Each side then shares their interests around the issue. Options are brainstormed/ generated. A resolution discussion takes place and a tentative agreement is reached if possible. Otherwise the issue is placed in a parking lot to be addressed later. The idea is that this kind of bargaining actually achieves better results than simple compromise and leads to solutions that are mutually beneficial to both sides more often.
At the first issues meeting, each side will bring their “properly” framed issues to the table and will be grouped as phase 1: non-economic issues with a high potential for cooperation, phase 2: non-economic issues with low potential, phase 3: economic issues.
We hear that if this process breaks down at all, it is usually at phase 3, over issues of money, but were assured by the facilitators that they have a special training to help us through that phase of negotiations which can build on this modified approach. Of course, the worst that can happen is that we revert back to traditional bargaining, if all else fails.
It is interesting to me that both the union (IFT/AFT) and our administration have agreed to use this approach after an “education” workshop (really a “training,” but since neither side had committed to MTB at that point, it remained an “education”) presented by two facilitators from the FMCS — Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which was created out of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 (“in order to prevent or minimize interruptions of the free flow of commerce growing out of labor disputes, to assist parties to labor disputes in industries affecting commerce and settle such disputes through conciliation and mediation.”) During this day and a half “training,” we worked together with the administrators we will be negotiating with, using mock scenarios, learning to frame issues as problems, generating interests, brainstorming options. Our next meeting will be to set the ground rules and then we’re off…
I know I will not be able to share much during negotiations, and probably not much even after. The standard for discretion around these discussions is set pretty high. The other members of this negotiating team will become my confidantes as we work toward more win-win solutions. As I sit here with the wind rattling the window and the impending storm building its energy outside, I am both excited and anxious about how this will all play out. I feel as if I am carrying a great deal of responsibility and want to be a strong advocate for the positions of the teachers in these deliberations. There are those on our team who have done this before, who really want this approach to work, but are remaining somewhat skeptical. I am new to this process yet am not naïve to the power differential at the table.
In our world where polarization is becoming more and more the norm, I look forward to participating in an arbitration where two parties with differing interests, commit to a collaborative approach to meet those concerns. We’ll see how long we can keep the MTB direction afloat before we resort to the adversarial. Any bets?