(This article is from the WLUFA Advocate October 2016 5.1.)
While many of us are familiar with the overall process of contract negotiations, what goes on behind the scenes may seem opaque. In an attempt to make the process more
transparent, this primer describes the stages of the negotiating process.
The first step is the Negotiating Team deciding which articles of the Collective Agreement will be opened for negotiation. Their decisions are based on experiences with the current Collective Agreement, grievances that were filed, and, most importantly, members’ input. This is why responding to WLUFA surveys is so important. The Team will also take into consideration recent contract settlements at other universities in order to bolster their demands. The Administration team carries out a similar process.
This is the exploratory stage of the negotiations. Both sides present their list of written demands and explanations for those demands. Each side tries to see how the other reacts to the proposed demands and then tries to determine what the other side may be willing to agree to.
This is the heavy-lifting stage of the negotiations. Proposals are presented in detail along with rationales and supporting data. Counter-proposals are made and both sides try to reach tentative agreements on the issues. This stage can last months. Often, non-monetary issues are dealt with first since they are regarded as less contentious. It is usually over monetary issues, like wage increases, that negotiations get bogged down. If a settlement is not reached in Stage 3, then the teams move on to Stage 4.
This is the crisis stage of the negotiations. The possibility of a strike or lock-out is imminent. Ideally, both sides want to avoid this, and so this stage is marked by a series of last-minute proposals and counter-proposals. It is during this stage that both sides increase their brinkmanship in an attempt to get the other side to blink first. It is also during this stage that a conciliator may be called in to help the parties reach an agreement.