Transforming Labor-Management Relations

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The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School brought together scholars, union members, management representatives, and an array of dispute resolution practitioners to analyze the United States’ largest and most ambitious labor-management partnership on Thursday, March 6, 2003. PON, in conjunction with the Institute for Work and Employment Relations (IWER) at MIT, hosted the labor-relations conference to analyze Interest-Based Negotiations (IBN) through a unique case study.

This interactive conference focused on the partnership between Kaiser Permanente – America’s leading not-for-profit health maintenance organization (HMO), hospital and health care facility — and a coalition of 26 local unions representing nearly 70,000 Kaiser employees, known as the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU). Participants explored the lessons and challenges presented from the largest and most complex interest-based negotiation process carried out to date in the field of labor-management relations.

MIT Professors Robert McKersie [PICTURE TO COME] and Thomas Kochan and Kennedy School of Government Assistant Professor Susan Eaton conducted the initial study of IBN at Kaiser Permanente, presenting the conference participants with their study, “Interest-Based Negotiations at Kaiser Permanente,” prior to the event and providing additional analysis throughout the day.

The conference featured a panel from both management and labor on the Kaiser Permanente experience with KP representative Tony Gately, CKPU leader Peter diCicco, Restructuring Associates Consultant John Stepp and Professor Deborah Kolb. The panelists described the unique partnership at KP and the interest-based negotiations used in the collective bargaining process in 2000. During the IBN negotiations, the parties trained and engaged over 400 management and union leaders in joint problem-solving processes that focused on seven critical economic and organizational areas. The IBN approach produced an agreement that enhanced the economic and employment security of the workforce, established a framework for sharing rewards from future performance improvements, and put the parties in position to implement the partnership principles into ongoing operations over the five-year term of the agreement.

In addition to describing the success of the groundbreaking 2000 negotiations, the panel addressed some crucial challenges facing the partnership in the upcoming 2005 contract negotiations. Professor Kolb provided a framework for thinking about the IBN process through her work exploring “the shadow negotiation,” the parallel negotiations where the unspoken attitudes, hidden assumptions, and conflicting agendas that drive the bargaining process play out. The shadow negotiation concept is central to Kolb’s new book Everyday Negotiation: Navigating the Hidden Agendas in Bargaining.

In the second session, the conference explored interest-based negotiation approaches in other settings. Professor Robert Mnookin described his IBN work with the San Francisco Symphony, and Adam Urbanksi discussed IBN approaches to collective bargaining in the Rochester School District. Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld provided the analytical framework for this panel based on his academic work on IBN and collective bargaining.

Following the second panel, Richard Barnes, Deputy Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, discussed the future of IBN in transforming labor-management relations in the broader national context.

Throughout the day, conference participants were asked to brainstorm ideas and to provide suggestions for the guests to utilize as they move into another phase of their IBN experience at Kaiser Permanente. Participants came from the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), Brookline Schools (Massachusetts), the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Partners Healthcare, the University of Glasgow, Bermuda Hospitals, as well as additional representatives from PON, IWER, FMCS, Kaiser Permanente, and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.

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