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How Might A School System Interested In Changing Its Negotiation Process Initiate A Change?
The answer to this question depends on the school system's interests, goals, and circumstances. For those considering such changes, the following description of how specific school systems and organizations implemented change should be useful. The four models examined below are joint training, joint training plus facilitation, the one-text procedure, and developing a statewide negotiation institute.
Joint training is a process in which, ideally, all of the parties to a negotiation, labor and management, are brought together in a negotiation workshop to learn and practice principled negotiation as a systematic approach to preparing, conducting and reviewing negotiations. We often recommend joint training in the labor/management context for two reasons. Approaching negotiation as a joint problem-solving process works even better if both sides understand and use the same approach. And training the parties to negotiate for themselves, rather than having to hire outsiders to do it for them seems to be more productive in the long term, particularly when the substance of the negotiation is a matter of community concern.
The Greece Schools Model: Joint Training
The Greece Central School District, near Rochester, New York, has about 11,600 students and 800 teachers. In January 1988 John Yagielski, Superintendent of Greece Schools, contacted us about exploring with him, his cabinet, and the leaders of the five unions in his district, the possibility of conducting joint negotiation training. Superintendent Yagielski had read Getting To YES, and had begun introducing some of its concepts in the prior collective bargaining sessions. Both Richard Bennett, the newly elected president of the Greece Teachers Association, and the superintendent agreed that neither liked the adversarial nature of their last contract negotiations, nor the substantive terms of the agreement they finally reached. The teachers who ratified that contract by a margin of only twenty-two votes apparently shared that view.
We sent a team to Greece to interview each union president and members of their negotiating team, as well as the superintendent, his administrative cabinet, and members of the school board. Based on that diagnostic work and the parties stated goals, we proposed a three-phased model for implementing a new negotiation process in the Greece Central School District and outlined the benefits and limitations of each phase. After reviewing and commenting on the proposal, the parties agreed to a three-day joint negotiation training workshop.
In July of 1988, a six-person team conducted the workshop for sixty-three members of the Greece Central School District. Forty-two participants were union members. Unions participating included the Greece Teachers Association, the Greece Support Services Employees Association, the Greece Administrators and Supervisors Association, the Association of Greece Central Educational Personnel, and the Greece United Substitute Teachers Organization. Seven school board members and 12 members of the superintendent's cabinet also participated.
In the first half of the workshop, the participants assessed their current negotiation assumptions and skills. They were introduced to some process concepts and given an opportunity to practice their skills through a series of negotiation exercises and group discussions. At the end of each day, a process advisory committee composed of representatives from each union and from the superintendent's office met with the our team to give feedback and relay concerns that might impact on the next day's design. During the second half of the workshop, participants began to focus on how to apply what they were learning to their actual negotiation issues. We facilitated structured application sessions and process design sessions by negotiation teams to help each team begin to prepare for actual negotiations.
It is important to note that although the superintendent's office paid for the diagnostic work and the workshop, we treated all diagnostic information as confidential to each party. This improved our ability to get candid feedback and build trust. Our reports and recommendations were carefully crafted to preserve this confidentiality while, at the same time, keeping all parties informed about the process.
The formal negotiation process began in March 1989 and ended in August 1989. In September, we heard from Mr. Bennett, GTA President. He indicated that the teacher's union and Greece Schools had achieved a "model agreement", in the shortest time ever, and that teachers had ratified the contract by a vote of 515 to 171.
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Copyright © Irma Tyler-Wood, C. Mark Smith, and Charles Barker
Originally published in the Journal of the North American Association of Educational Negotiators
Copyright © 2003, The Negotiator Magazine