Bargaining Changes – How to Meet Your Objectives When Negotiating Outside the Labor Agreement (Part II)

Negotiating changes in an agency during the life of a labor agreement can be time-consuming and expensive. These tips can help.

Practical Advice for Managers When Making Changes for Bargaining Unit Employees (Part II)

(Click here to read Bob Gilson’s first five suggestions for negotiating changes outside of the labor agreement.)

6. Consider grouping multiple initiatives and look for other leverage strategies when available to gain advantage

It is not unusual for agencies to have more than one impact and implementation (I&I) bargaining track going on at the same time.

In the larger agencies, many efforts may go on concurrently at different levels under a master agreement. Perhaps the greatest lost opportunity in Federal labor relations is a failure to combine issues and engage in multi-issue negotiations. However, this approach has both risks and rewards. On the upside, with more to trade, valued trades may cut across issues. Also lesser issues may stay that way.

In single issue bargaining, issues can gain a perceived importance way beyond their true value. On the downside, teaming up issues may drag out implementation of some initiatives until all are resolved. Every negotiator with whom I have discussed I&I with has agreed that more issues result in better outcomes.

7. Provide as much information as possible to the union at the time of notice to avoid 7114(b)(4) delays

Data requests are frequently used to delay bargaining.

This tactic was introduced by NTEU and quickly adopted by the others. The idea is to accompany a bargaining request with a burdensome data request then litigate any agency denial. The “Particularized Need” requirement set forth by the Federal Labor Relations Authority has limited this ploy to some degree.

However, a smart management will forestall the use of this by putting together any and all information as part of the preparation process, then provide the information to the union at the time the initiative is proposed.

8. Follow contract notification and other applicable procedures or, in their absence, provide a clear, specific, written notice outlining the change and require in return a clear, specific, written response by a date certain.

Frequently, the union will come back to your notice with a request to bargain, as well as a data request. Often in this stratagem, it is difficult to identify what the union wants until after lengthy question and answer meetings.

Their interests or issues or at long last proposals must drawn out. When the contract has notice requirements, follow them to the letter. The best approach is to write your initiative in proposal form identifying exactly what will happen. Demand in return a clear counter. This will move things along.

9. Do not get bogged down in ground rules

Another common union ploy is to request ground rules bargaining as a precursor to substantial negotiations on your initiative. Here the agency can prove that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. Mid-Contract and I&I bargaining deserve a clause in the labor agreement.

It’s worth an impasse to get a time line on these negotiations. The Patent and Trademark Office has, or at least had, language that provided the parties three days to reach an agreement on I&I issues and if they failed to reach agreement, an expedited impasse resolution process results. If you do a lot of I&I, it’s worth the pain in term negotiations to get such language.

10. Be aware that provoking negotiability disputes and invoking impasse procedures lengthens the process. Anticipate and avoid these procedures whenever possible.

How do you avoid this problem?

One big step is to decide during preparation what you are willing to give to get what you want. Then you should do a reality check on whether the concession will be enough, whether your management will go along with it and whether the gain is worth the pain. I’d really like a nickel (OK, $10.00) for every time managers I worked for waited to have any concession dragged out of them in bargaining. Knowing early stresses decision makers but can give the chief negotiator a leg up in planning an endgame strategy to move a negotiation to a quick conclusion.

I hope you find these helpful. If you’re a labor relations advisor, consider passing them along to line management. Remember, the better structured the approach, the more likely a faster and more favorable result.

By the way, the views I express here are mine alone.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.