Bargaining Ground Rules Can be Complicated

Whenever a new term agreement or contract is negotiated, the parties generally exchange ground rules. The author offers a set of ground rules for Agencies to consider offering when getting ready to negotiate a new contract.

Whenever a new term agreement or contract is negotiated, the parties generally exchange ground rules.  I have heard horror stories from Agencies about the results of a failure to adequately consider the problems and issues that may arise in the course of negotiating an agreement.  In some cases, bargaining ground rules may appear to take longer than bargaining the contract itself. This article offers a set of draft ground rules for Agencies to consider offering in response to union ground rules proposals when you’re getting ready to negotiate a new contract. The draft ground rules are contained at the end of this article.

While any number of issues may arise, below are those most commonly addressed by the parties in ground rules. Most bargaining takes place in Agency provided facilities.  If not, a whole plethora of issues arise including who pays for what.

  1. Negotiators
    1. Number on each team
    2. Travel and Per Diem for union negotiators
    3. Preparation time
    4. Shift changes to accommodate negotiations
    5. Observers
    6. Use of non-unit employees or others as team members
  2. Bargaining Environment
    1. Agency Site v. Neutral/Non-Agency Site
    2. Accommodations for Negotiators
    3. Caucus Rooms
    4. Provision of Phones
    5. Provision of Copy Services
    6. Provision of Computer/Printer/Software/Supplies
    7. Start/Quit/Meal/Break Times
  3. Bargaining Structure
    1. Exchange of Proposals
    2. Format of Proposals
    3. Foreclosure of New Issues
    4. Number of Sessions
    5. Dates and Times of Sessions/Mediation/Impasse
    6. Order of Proceeding
    7. Use of Caucuses
    8. Handling of Minutes/Notes
    9. Method of Signing Off/Tentative Agreement
    10. Handling Negotiability Issues
      1. Defer/Open Agreement To Accommodate
      2. Resolve Before Making Agreement Effective
  4. Post Agreement
    1. Provision of Final Draft Agreement
    2. Ratification
    3. Agency Head Review
    4. Effect of Disapproved Agreement
    5. Contract Effective Date

I have tried to cover in my draft all of the substantial concerns that an Agency may have in the process.

There are some matters that may arise such as use of an interest arbitrator other than the Federal Service Impasses Panel. While some Agencies buy into such an arrangement, remember that if the panel does not approve the use of an interest arbitrator, you may lose the right to Agency Head Review (Take a peek at 37 FLRA No. 111).

If you are an Agency chief negotiator without labor relations subject matter experience (a number of Agencies use managers as chiefs), get help.  If you think the issues addressed in my draft ground rules are easy or may be taken lightly, you’re probably the wrong person for the job or, stated simply, a fool who doesn’t know what he/she doesn’t know.  At a minimum, you should get your specialist or counsel to do some research for you in CyberFeds™ and provide you cases to read on thornier issues.  Were I in your shoes, I’d suggest to the union that if it wants a new contract, it should offer ground rules proposals for your consideration after which you may counter any you find unworkable, incomplete, absent issues or otherwise objectionable.  Remember that the draft offered in this article is a management proposal likely to get objections from the union when offered.  They do, after all, address negotiations.

Most of the above carries my opinion and I alone am responsible for its content or any mistakes therein.

Draft Ground Rules

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.