Should you hire a professional negotiator?

Here’s some insight and advice about hiring professional negotiators:

  • Collective bargaining is very time-consuming. Just for one contract, the research, preparation, and at-the-table bargaining can take more than 100 hours.
  • Teacher and classified bargaining teams are usually represented by well-trained, professional union negotiators. Even when the union decides to negotiate without a professional chief negotiator, it will seek professional assistance to draft its bargaining proposals.
  • Bargaining produces a binding agreement establishing compensation, benefits and numerous other terms and conditions of employment. Mistakes can have devastating impacts on education - financially and administratively.
  • Precise language is critical. The rights and obligations of both parties hinge on specific language which at first may appear innocuous, but in practice may result in a binding agreement that unreasonably restricts management's authority.
  • Many agreements include binding arbitration as the final step to resolve disputes. This emphasizes the need for negotiators who stay current on "contract language" based on decisions of leading professional arbitrators.
  • Labor relations is becoming more complex. Negotiators must know court decisions, rulings of the state Employment Relations Board, legislative amendments and many state and federal laws affecting collective bargaining, as well as the current union agenda and background on your situation.
  • News media and public interest in bargaining has increased, especially with skyrocketing health care costs - which are a big part of employee contracts. Better public awareness can help mobilize community support and lead to quicker and more realistic settlements. Communicating directly with employees and reporters about district positions requires skill and expertise.

If you hire a negotiator, look for certain qualities. A chief negotiator doesn't need to be an attorney, but to be effective he or she must have:

  • A thorough knowledge of labor relations and collective bargaining under our Public Employee Collective Bargaining Law.
  • Working knowledge of public education, including school finance, to analyze the impact of bargaining proposals on school operations.
  • Experience in actual negotiations with teacher, classified and wall-to-wall bargaining units.
  • The ability to develop and articulate district positions effectively and convincingly at the bargaining table.
  • Conflict resolution skills.
  • Communication planning skills to effectively reach news media and community.
  • A personality that won't be intimidated. The chief negotiator must be articulate, firm, but polite.
  • Other key qualities are trustworthiness, patience and the ability to be discreet.

Layoff and recall basics

Reductions in force - the Board's role