How to Defuse a Strike

By — on / Conflict Resolution

The recent dispute between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) West and East and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) illustrates how a disagreement at the negotiating table can lead to a long and costly strike. As the two sides battled back and forth, AMPTP member companies laid off support staff, and the strike cost LA County $220 million per month.

Given these costs, was the resulting re-negotiated contract worth it? More importantly, how do we defuse a strike before it ever happens? The March 2008 Negotiation newsletter article “The strike zone: How to defuse protracted labor conflicts” offered several suggestions about how to defuse a strike.

Extreme demands can be one of the first obstacles to ending a strike so it is best to avoid them.
When negotiators stick to these types of demands it makes it difficult for parties to explore alternative, creative solutions. It also tends to escalate commitment to a strike.

In the throes of conflict it is often difficult to think about the other side, particularly in competitive situations. However, by examining each other’s interests it makes it more likely that both side’s will be able to generate more innovative solutions.

It may also be beneficial for the disputing parties to seek an outside opinion that can look at the situation objectively and provide feedback on each sides position.

One alternative to a strike is to implement a “virtual strike.” In the case of the writer’s guild strike, it would mean the WGA and AMPTP would continue to do business as usual while setting aside their usual wages and profits. Once the conflict was resolved, they could divide the funds as they saw fit.

Building virtual-strike clauses into contracts during less tense periods could help unions and management create a situation in which strikes would not destroy long-term value.

Finally, contingent contracts may be the most feasible way to end what seems like an impasse between the parties. Contingency clauses allow both sides to “bet” on how events will unfold. In the case of the writer’s strike, the producers could have agreed to pay more if the predictions of the writers regarding potential revenue came true within a certain period of time, less if the revenues were less than expected. To further address uncertainty between the parties, they could have framed the contract to make the payments based upon the type of media as well. Creative solutions are often very successful if both parties are willing to consider all of their options.

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