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Contract Collaboration

Changing Bargaining Styles Can Mean Success for All

Dave Arnold

My son-in-law's grandfather was a pilot in World War II. His P-51 Mustang, named "Fiddle De Dee," once saved him during a dogfight with a speedier German Messerschmitt.


The grandfather relied on some evasive maneuvers to survive, including pushing his plane beyond its normal limits. The Mustang's maximum speed was 437 miles per hour. The plane would break up if it went beyond 500.

As the story goes, the American pilot had so much faith in his plane that he climbed as high as possible to dodge some bullets, then plunged into a steep power dive while pulling a hard left turn. This maneuver pushed the P-51 to over 600 miles per hour. It held together. After his grandfather ended his story, my son-in-law asked him if he had gunned down the German plane. His grandfather replied, "Nope, we both won that day."

Applied Pressures

At the end of a truly successful bargaining day, folks on both sides of the table should be able to feel like they have won. Employees may not get everything they want from employers, who may not get everything they want. But if you can find a way to overcome obstacles and barriers to reach an agreement, then you both can claim the victory of a signed contract. Like the two fighter pilots, no one will have gone down in flames.

At my local in Brownstown, Illinois, we usually use the traditional, "collective" style of bargaining because it works for us. In my neck of the woods, the bargaining environment has been cordial, respectful and even friendly. This may not be the case in your area.

Illinois Education Association UniServ Director, Marcus Albrecht, says many locals across the country may encounter five kinds of "pressures" during negotiations that may cause Association members to consider using a "collaborative" style of bargaining. Listed below are some of the pressure forces identified by Albrecht:

  • Hostile bargaining environment: Association leaders should explore a different style of bargaining under unfriendly circumstances.
  • New school district or local Association personnel: New personnel always mean new ideas and changes at the table.
  • New group attitude from new members: Younger employees may be more focused on professional issues and in building professional relationships with administrators while older employees may want to concentrate more on issues such as benefits and contract language.
  • New concepts in labor-management relations: New ideas about how to relate to management may alter bargaining strategies.
  • Education reforms: State and federal education laws are changing constantly. School structure and programs are also in flux. These changes may prompt the local Association to consider a different approach to bargaining.

Collaborative Bargaining

To help respond to new pressure forces, consider using the collaborative bargaining method. For it to work at its best, there must be a mutual agreement between both parties to accept this bargaining method before negotiations begin. There are three basic sub-categories to collaborative bargaining:

1)  Expedited Bargaining: seeking an agreement in a relative short period of time by restricting the time and number of issues on the table.

2)  Progressive Bargaining: designed to permit full discussion of every issue that both sides want to discuss. Its major aspects are:

  • Early start on negotiations
  • Separation of economic and non-economic issues
  • Referrals of issues to subcommittees
  • Early mediation and/or fact-finding

3)  Interest-Based Bargaining (also called "Win-Win"): both sides promise to reach a settlement within 30 days. This process views school board, administrators, and education employees as members of a family with a common cause: caring for the welfare of the children (students).

Potential Outcomes

When a collaborative bargaining process works it has the potential to produce a number of benefits for your Association:

  • Improve public confidence in the education system
  • Improve relationships between local Associations and employers
  • Encourage creative solutions
  • Development of long-term vision and goals

When Collaborative Bargaining does not work, problems can occur:

  • Failure to effectively deal with member interest
  • Conflict with some members' perceptions of advocacy
  • Worsening of labor-management relationships

Two Key Points

It has been said the definition of true wisdom is changing that which you cannot accept, accepting that which you cannot change, and knowing the difference between the two. During negotiations, one key to success is having the wisdom to identify the best style of bargaining to counter pressure forces in your environment.

The other key is knowing when to engage your opponent and when to climb high above the clouds and escape in order to return to fight another day. That's when you both win.
(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.