Although there are typically two sides at a collective bargaining table, each represents a number of varying interests. Management’s corporate interests may vary between divisions and departments, and are concerned not just with the issues themselves, but also how those issues fit with overall business strategies.
Unions have even more complex concerns. Their mandates are determined by a largely political process – votes on what the majority thinks are important. But the bargaining team has to represent all workers involved, and there may be any number of groups and sub-groups with widely differing priorities.
There are two basic types of issues that are encountered in bargaining. One type is typically adversarial in nature, like wages. Something one side wants is something the other side doesn’t want, although they may differ in how strong their “wanting” is. The other type is what are known as “win-win” issues, such as health and safety. A safer workplace is a win for everyone.
The line isn’t always that clearly drawn, and you can trade off some win or loss as part of some combined win-win strategy, but it’s a good way to frame how issues are dealt with, and it happens to be the standard academic approach to these matters.
In any event, the strategies are different depending on what kind of issue you are dealing with. For adversarial issues, you generally see what is called “hard bargaining”. Think of haggling over the price in the bazaar – my price, your price, and let’s struggle until we meet in some middle. On win-win matters, you mostly see what is called “integrative” or “problem-solving” negotiation, where everyone is trying to find as much good for both sides as they can.
Again, the line isn’t that clearly drawn when you get to the table, but you get the idea.
One of the factors that permeates the entire bargaining process is the relationship between the parties, or rather, how important it is. And it really depends. Do you care if it gets heated with the merchant in the market? Probably not, especially if you are never going to see them again. But, with any collective bargaining issue between unions and their employers, the relationship is absolutely and utterly key.
Dr. Hebdon remarks that trust in employee-employer relationships is difficult to build, always remains fragile, and easy to destroy. If it breaks down at the bargaining table, you risk a wholesale breakdown, not only of the collective agreement, but also of the ongoing relationship on a day-today basis.