Here are five things an employer can do to get to a win-win contract.
* Prepare in advance a list of key negotiating issues. Meet with supervisors to review labor issues that have arisen because of language in the collective bargaining agreement or how the agreement is administered.
List which issues are must-haves and which aren't. Don't package items on the list with union proposals that you want dropped. No employer has to agree to unreasonable proposals.
* Limit the size of the negotiating committees. Management's negotiating committee should have no more than three or four members -- the vice president and/or director of human resources, plus the CFO or other finance person to help cost the proposals. Always have a spreadsheet with information to calculate the cost of management and union proposals.
* Management can't dictate who will be on the union negotiating committee, but should attempt to limit its size to 10 or 15 people. The larger the union committee, the longer it takes to make a decision.
* Focus on economic issues, not contract language. Don't attempt to rewrite contract language that has raised no issues, regardless of how it is worded. For every language issue management raises, the union will want something in return.
* Set a reasonable negotiating schedule. Avoid letting a union impose unreasonable negotiating schedules.
Negotiating after 8 p.m. is almost always unproductive. If the union is ready to start a long caucus at 4 p.m., quit for the day. Don't wait around to start discussions at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. Some unions traditionally use marathon negotiations to wear down management.
If you see that you are headed for a marathon, or if face-to-face negotiations become acrimonious, discontinue talks and call in a federal mediator. Rely on an experienced outside negotiator, who will be able to size up the situation and advise which issues are "must haves," understand how to time proposals and read the other side's verbal and nonverbal cues, sense before anyone else if the sides are at a stalemate or if a deal is within reach, and say no to unreasonable union proposals without disrupting the negotiations. Phillip J. Binotto, Jr. Eckert is a lawyer with Seamans Cherin & Mellott.