Negotiating a Labor Contract: Finding the Style that Suits You

07 January 2019 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog
Authors: Thomas C. Pence

Day one of labor negotiations for a new labor contract. The prior three years had been uneventful, very few grievances, a good business climate, and the two negotiating committees chatted amicably as they waited for their representatives to start the meeting. The company lead negotiator spoke first, welcoming everyone, pledging to work in good faith toward a new contract. The union international representative, who was new to the relationship, spoke next. Out of the blue, he started shouting: “I just want everyone to understand we are sick and tired of the company’s bull****. We are sick and tired of getting screwed over. I mean, it is total bs. We don’t get paid s*** and the supervisors at this place are f***ed up. We are going to put a stop to it right here and right now in these negotiations.”

Okay, that wasn’t exactly expected, and the question was, “How to respond?” Take the bait and yell back? Walk out? Well, in that particular case, the company understood two things: a) the union bargaining committee wasn’t at all aligned in real life with the international representative’s anger; and b) given the context of the good overall relationship in the plant between the company and the union, the overwhelming likelihood was that the remarks by the international representative were just performance art; they were just his idea of how negotiations are supposed to work. So, the company chose to simply ignore the remarks by saying, “Thanks for the comments, let’s get started.” And from that point forward, the negotiations proceeded without a hitch toward another reasonable cost-, management-friendly contract.

This raises the question of what your style or tone should be in negotiations. Should you be low key? Should you yell and pound the table? A few thoughts:

Lots of different styles can work in negotiations. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer as to what works best. Some people yell a lot and are very effective with it. Others try yelling and come off sounding cartoonish (never a good thing in negotiations). The best advice is to be true to yourself. If your style is to be a reasonable mediator-type personality, that style can work for you in labor negotiations. And your style might change over the course of the negotiations. You might start out low key, but if your adversary continually misbehaves, you might need to adopt a more aggressive tone. Style is a means to an end. Use the style that is going to get you the best outcome.

Of course, your style will be affected to some extent by how much leverage you have in the negotiations. Negotiations can be easy if you have a lot of leverage; much tougher if you don’t. Either way, the best approach, no matter what tone you use to convey it, is to be self-assured and determined in arguing your position. As one friend said, you don’t want to arrive at negotiations waving a surrender flag. It may not always be true in politics, but in labor negotiations, where relationships matter, confident, genuine, and truthful usually works best; phony and deceptive doesn’t sell very well.

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.

Authors

Related Services

Insights