Labor negotiations can often be contentious and destructive. But appropriate negotiation and dispute resolution techniques can help all parties achieve mutually advantageous outcomes.
There is a common misconception that contract negotiation must always be a win-lose competition. But labor negotiations in a unionized setting are rarely limited to single issues, such as questions of compensation. Working conditions, safety concerns, or questions about worker rights, regularly surface and must be resolved.
When these kinds of conflicts loom, it can be tempting for each side to try to make unilateral decisions on key issues because of the belief that labor negotiations with the other side will be a dead end. This dispute resolution strategy may pay off in the short term, but it’s important to factor in the long-term costs in terms of conflict resolution.
However, we can increase the possibility of win-win agreements in labor negotiations by following a few simple guidelines.
Keep it cordial. Prior to negotiations, avoid provoking the other side with legal maneuvers, side deals, and other tactics that could worsen tensions.
Start early. Engage your counterpart as early as possible to demonstrate your interest in exploring options together.
Imagine worst-case scenarios. Recognizing that overconfidence could inspire unrealistic expectations on both sides.
Make a realistic offer. Prepare an opening offer that is aggressive but not insulting, and back it up with a compelling argument.
Put it all on the table. By refusing to put limits on the number of topics under discussion, you exponentially improve the chances of discovering tradeoffs that will satisfy both parties.
Trust in negotiations may develop naturally over time, but negotiators rarely have the luxury of letting nature take its course. Thus it sometimes seems easiest to play it safe with cautious deals involving few tradeoffs, few concessions, and little information sharing between parties. But avoiding risk can mean missing out on significant opportunities. For this reason, … Read
Tetsushi Okumura is a professor at the Tokyo University of Science and has been a visiting scholar at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. His research articles have appeared in leading management and psychology journals, and he has translated into Japanese many popular books on negotiation. Recently, Okumura has been interviewing Japanese government negotiators to … Read
No one likes strikes. They can be financially devastating to employers and employees alike. And because strikes inconvenience the public, whatever popular support striking workers gain may fade when a strike drags on over time.
When a conflict looms, it can be tempting for each side to try to make unilateral decisions on key issues because of the belief that negotiations with the other side will be a dead end. This dispute resolution strategy may pay off in the short term, but it’s important to factor in the long-term costs … Read
Negotiation case studies use the power of example to teach negotiation strategies. Looking to past negotiations where students can analyze what approaches the parties took and how effective they were in reaching an agreement, can help students gain new insights into negotiation dynamics. The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) has a variety of negotiation case … Read
As the following points of win-win negotiation will demonstrate, ensuring that your counterpart is satisfied with a particular deal requires you to manage several aspects of the negotiation process, including his outcome expectations, his perceptions of your outcome, the comparisons he makes with others, and his overall negotiation experience itself.
Challenged by pandemic-era uncertainty, mounting political divides, and other obstacles, negotiators had difficulty coming together in 2021. But our list of 10 Notable Negotiations of 2021 includes a few bargaining highs amid the many lows.
Regrouping from the cancellation of the 2004–2005 season due to failed labor negotiations, National Hockey League (NHL) teams and players faced the challenge of radically restructuring their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in July 2005. The new CBA instituted a uniform cap (as well as a floor) on team payrolls. It also set maximums and minimums … Read
The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School invites you to join us for
A 50th Anniversary Celebration of
A Behavioral Theory of Labor Negotiations
with Robert B. McKersie and Richard E. Walton
A live webcast of this event will be available for viewing at
Thursday, March 5, 2015
12:00 p.m. Registration opens
1:00 – 5:30 p.m. Program
5:30-6:30 p.m. Reception
Wasserstein … Read
This spring, the Metropolitan Opera opened labor talks with the 16 unions representing its workers, whose contracts all expire at the end of July, the New York Times reports. Labor and management agree on one fundamental point—that the opera is struggling financially amid falling ticket sales, a depleted endowment, and growing expenses. Perhaps not surprisingly, … Read
A recent ruling by a regional branch of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) raises the question of whether college football and basketball players will engage in the kind of collective dealmaking with university administrations that is found in business and government.
In March, the NLRB in Chicago sided in favor of a group called the … Read
The $23 billion acquisition of H.J. Heinz. Michael Dell’s planned $24 billion buyout of his namesake computer company. The $11 billion merger of American Airlines and US Airways. Office Depot’s $976 million, all-stock acquisition of OfficeMax.
These high-flying deals were announced one after the other this past February. The mad rush to consolidate and partner signaled … Read
On February 16, in the midst of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) All-Star weekend, members of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) unanimously voted to oust Billy Hunter as the union’s executive director.
“This is our union and we have taken it back,” National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher said, as reported by ESPN.com. Fisher … Read
Social comparisons are a critical factor in guiding negotiator satisfaction, Maurice E. Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania and Yale psychologist Nathan Novemsky have found in their research. Not only do negotiators compare their profit from a deal with the profit they imagine their counterpart earned, but they also compare their profit with the profits … Read
In an effort to understand more about how the former PON Clearinghouse does and doesn’t meet its customers’ needs, we interviewed a number of long-time Clearinghouse clients. We asked what teaching materials they found most valuable and for what reasons. We also asked how they found out about the former Clearinghouse and what additional teaching and … Read