Organizing Bargaining: Practical and Useful Tools to Help Make the Process More Manageable

Bargaining a contract is a lot to get your arms around. The Author offers these tools to make preparation, tracking and figuring out the status of a negotiation simpler. Warning! This article is written for folks who have bargained without structure and wished they had some tools to work with. If you’re a seat of the pants bargainer, shame on you, and this is not for you.

I’ve written before on bargaining preparation. These previous articles, on term negotiations and on Impact and Implementation bargaining (I&I) included a bargaining book template for term negotiations, a worksheet for I&I and proposal valuing worksheet. Lots of attendees in my negotiation classes and FedSmith readers have asked me when I was going to get around to putting on paper some of the other organizing tools I’ve talked about. Take a look at these Bargaining Organization Worksheets and I will discuss them below.

My premise is that a bargaining book to be useful must include not only preparation data but data reflecting the progress and status of negotiations as well. Also, many more people are getting involved in Federal labor negotiations who either don’t work full time at it or are being brought into the process for the first time. Knowing where you are at a given time in bargaining is critical and these tools can also help maintain continuity if bargaining is extended or players change.

Bargaining Notes

Most of this form is self explanatory but let’s look at a few items that might need some further discussion.

  • Bargaining notes are often useful in the administration of an agreement and may even be used as evidence in hearings.
  • I discourage verbatim notes. What you are looking for is the gist of the discussion focusing on each party’s key points and arguments on behalf of its proposals, positions or interests.
  • Issue and/or Article/Section Identifier. You must figure out a way to identify a proposal in order to track it. If you are using an existing but expiring agreement for example and you or the union wants to add a new section to Article 10 which currently has 4 sections, you may call the proposal Article 10, Section 5 (union – new). If they are proposing to revise an existing section, you may call it Article 10, Section 3 (union revision). If management is proposing to revise a section, it would logically follow that you’d call it Article 10, Section 2 (management revision), etc.
  • If the whole article is the subject of a discussion, list all of the identifiers under discussion.

We’ll be talking about each of the trackers listed at the bottom of the notes page later in this article.

Attendance Log

This log creates a record of who attended bargaining on a given day and their apparent role. I’ve seen witness credibility successfully challenged in subsequent arbitration hearings when an attendance log was used to demonstrate that the matter over which they were testifying was discussed when the witness wasn’t present.

Activity Summary

I don’t know about you but in multi-issue bargaining over time, I have found myself wondering where we were on any number of issues. This tool will show at a glance what has happened to a particular issue throughout the negotiation and its current status. Next to the notes, this is a critical tool to use.

The activities are represented by notations that list what occurred on a given day. Use more than one, if appropriate. I’ve tried to consider what goes on at the table. Please let me know if there are other things to be added to the notation list or if you’d do it differently, how come?

Agreement Log

This log is an absolute necessity. I once thought that bargaining was concluded on a contract when the union, who had kept better track than I had, pointed out that two sections of an article were still outstanding. Not only was this an embarrassing truth but could have been a costly one.

Proposal/Counterproposal Tracker

This provides similar but more detailed information to the Activity Summary (above). It also feeds the Agreement Log and allows you to follow progress. I hope you can see by now that these tools are interrelated and one depends on the other for data. If you’ve ever taken over bargaining from someone else who didn’t have a good record, you probably talked about or at least thought about them like a dog! Sadly, they deserved it.

Package Cover Page(s)

Getting a handle on packages is one of the most demanding details in bargaining, particularly if more than one is on the table at any given time. You’ll notice I’m suggesting identifying the package by the party proposing it and the date proposed. If you have another method, comment below.

Package Tracker

This tool functions like the Proposal/Counterproposal Tracker. The goal is to keep track of packages. Each package developed gets an identifier and is tracked until agreed upon or merged with to become a new package or broken up into components. Each separate package should be identified as a unique entity and tracked even if the package was only on the table for a day or part of a day. Otherwise, you’ll lose touch with the issues involved and get tied up trying to figure out how you got to your current situation.

Bargaining Status Report

Chief Negotiators are frequently asked or tasked to report on the status of negotiations. I found it both helpful and a time saver to have a prepared memo in the computer that I could polish up on short notice and satisfy a management requirement quickly. In the sample memo are listed data points that are very easily gathered from the logs and trackers.

Unfortunately, past organization of negotiations and bargaining history has often been poorly structured and organized. I hope this helps get you on track.

As always, any opinion expressed above is mine and mine alone. If you have questions on any of this, send me an email and I’ll get back to you ASAP. I am also available to help you get ready to negotiate.

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.