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Ask The Negotiator
Mary Ellen Shea

Ask the Negotiator is designed to afford our readers with the opportunity to ask questions about any aspect of negotiations and provide them with answers from experienced negotiators in future editions of the magazine. Please direct your questions to John Baker at editor@negotiatormagazine.com. We will only publish your first name or the nom de plume you suggest along with your country when your question is published. Your question will be answered either by John Baker or by a member of The Negotiator Magazine’s growing list of outside negotiation resources.

We are delighted to have Mary Ellen Shea, an expert in labor negotiation, as this month’s guest respondent. Mary Ellen Shea is a Senior Trainer with The Negotiation Skills Company. An experienced mediator, arbitrator and trainer, Ms. Shea completed her studies at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. She has done additional graduate studies at MIT, the University of Massachusetts Labor Institute and is a graduate of Northeastern University. You may contact Mary Ellen Shea at the Negotiation Skills Company by E-mail at tnsc@negotiationskills.com and visit the firm's web site at www.negotiationskills.com.

And now, this month’s letter...

What Kind Of Opportunities Exist For Experienced Labor Negotiators?

From: Camille, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Question:

Dear Ms. Shea,

My husband has been his union pension and contract representative for the past four years and has successfully negotiated very difficult contracts for his police department. He excels at so many aspects of the process as well as being very adept at understanding in depth, the nuances of these negotiations.

He will be retiring from the department in the next few months and although he will be participating in his deferred retirement option plan, he may be interested in pursuing opportunites in pension and union contract negotiations soon. Can you give me any information regarding potential you might see for employment either in the public or private sector for someone of his admitted limited formal educational background but successful experience in this arena?

Response:

Dear Camille,

Thank you for your inquiry about employment opportunities in the area of labor negotiations.

I can't speak to specific opportunities in your area, but let me share some thoughts. Like your husband, I came up through the ranks as a union negotiator. I was elected to a variety of union official positions while I was a government employee. Although I had no formal training in labor relations, negotiations or labor law before assuming any of these positions, I became a skilled and knowledgeable negotiation professional.

Your husband's experience and my experience are common avenues for pursuing a career in union-management relations. What your husband possesses is "table experience" (direct, hands on experience at the bargaining table), and it is a valuable asset in the field.

Labor unions are more often interested in hiring someone with experience like your husband's (even with only one employer, one contract and one union), than anyone with a college degree (or a Master's) in anything but who has no "table experience".

I am most familiar with how various colleagues worked their way into the business here in the Northeast than any other region. Mediators and arbitrators, for example, still come to the profession the old-fashioned way: a combination of table experience with either the Union or Management side and then a period of apprenticeship with an accomplished mediator or arbitrator. (There is no degree, certificate, or required course of study for mediation and arbitration).

Business agents that I know (sometimes called consultants) working for labor unions (as the paid expert that assists locals in things like grievance and arbitration handling or collective bargaining), all come out of the field. For example, the teachers' union consultants are mostly former teachers who started out as local representatives and gradually became more involved in labor-relations. IBPO or Teamster business agents are generally former (or retired) police officers, truckers, or warehousemen who had been local stewards or local presidents. Some labor organizations hire part-time representatives or unit specific representatives (A business agent, for example who comes from a specific industry and handles only that industry. For example, representatives who specialize in paper mill units.)

To find out what organizations employ people with table experience, your husband should consider some strategic networking. There are professional organizations that sponsor gatherings, presentations or conferences. The Florida Public Employer Labor Relations Association might be a good start. He should consider both union and management organizations: either can be a valuable tool in pursuing his new career. He should also find the local chapters of the IRRA (Industrial Relations Research Association and ACR (Association for Conflict Resolution).These provide great learning and networking opportunities.

Also, employees at government agencies such as the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission have first hand knowledge of the field. Your husband probably knows some of them personally. Even if he doesn't, most people are honored to talk about their profession and their field. I have given many informational interviews for people interested in the field. These folks know that I am not in the business of hiring someone, but realize the value in hearing someone's career story and getting one or two more names for their networking.

Best of luck to both you and your husband in this new phase of your lives!

Sincerely,

Mary Ellen Shea

This question and answer are provided through the courtesy of Mr. Steven P. Cohen, president of The Negotiations Skills Company. Inc., based in Pride’s Crossing, Massachusetts. Mr. Cohen receives questions from his international clients and publishes them along with answers on his web site at www.negotiationskills.com.

Mary Ellen Shea is a Senior Trainer with The Negotiation Skills Company. An experienced mediator, arbitrator and trainer, Ms. Shea completed her studies at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. She has done additional graduate studies at MIT, the University of Massachusetts Labor Institute and is a graduate of Northeastern University. You may contact Mary Ellen Shea at the Negotiation Skills Company by E-mail at tnsc@negotiationskills.com and visit the firm's web site at www.negotiationskills.com.


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