In collective bargaining, the union’s goal is to achieve the best possible collective agreement for its members. How that is accomplished comprises the strategy for bargaining, and its development is based on the assessment of many variables.
Strategy development is mostly a process which involves attempting to predict likely future events and results, and it often requires the re-evaluation and refinement of your approach as negotiations unfold. It is an exercise that requires a very deep, objective, and critical analysis.
During this phase of strategy development, bargainers rely on different sources and methods to predict both possible and probable outcomes of certain decisions. Bargainers must make judgements based on factors that may paint a very incomplete picture of the future. Wise negotiators understand that they cannot know all the possible outcomes of the decisions they are faced with during the collective bargaining process—but they do know that thorough analysis of available information serves to at least limit the uncertainty.
In this way, analysis gives negotiators a better sense of what outcomes and pathways might be possible based on conditions such as: the actors involved, their policy intentions, the landscape surrounding the bargaining table, the specific issues and what impact they have on society, relevant historical events, timing, and prior decisions. These things (and others) impact what a strategy and the tactics that make up that strategy looks like for bargaining.
Based on these variables and the issues, there is no single approach that can be pointed to as a “best option” for every round of negotiations. In the recent history of OSSTF/FEESO bargaining, for example, analysis has led to the application of drastically different strategies over a relatively short period of time. Making and applying strategies for bargaining is as difficult as it is for any other prospective, high-stakes venture because negotiators cannot know all the possible outcomes of the decisions they face.
Regardless of the strategy used, however, the parties must continue to bargain in good faith until a tentative agreement is finally reached.
In the next issue: What is a tentative agreement?