3 Tips For Collective Bargaining | Improving Labour Relations

Being in the business of helping professionals master their human skills, one quickly learns there are few better examples of what NOT to do than union contract negotiations. 

We at The 2% Factor do not take the side of management nor the unions, but rather work with individuals in both groups in an honest, respectful way that quickly leads to the desirable (and often elusive) outcome of an employment contract that is acceptable to everyone.

From our experience and involvement in union-management relations, here are 3 tips that both management AND union leaders can use to get through the negotiation process faster and with less tension than they may have otherwise thought possible.


Regardless of which side of the table you are sitting on, remember that the person or people sitting across from you are human beings.  

Do not confuse who they are with what they do.

In other words, do not see them as some evil monster out to destroy you and the groups you represent. They don't go home to their cave at night and eat kittens and puppies for dinner.

They are a human being just like you. 

Also, just like you, they are being paid to do a job and will do it to the best of their ability. They have a strong desire to do well and be seen by their colleagues and bosses as having worked hard to get the job done.

They want to feel and be seen as successful. 

And know that in most cases (save for the 2%, of course), if they could wave a magic wand and give your camp everything you want while they get everything they want...they probably would!

Know that when they demonstrate a behaviour or engage in a course of action that you may object to, find unhelpful, or even take offence to, they are doing what they feel is right for them and their cause from their perspective. 

They didn't just wake up one day and think, "hey, maybe today I will try and derail these talks by doing [blank]".

They are doing what they believe is in their best interests to do in order to obtain the outcome that they want to attain.

For many of us, the hardest thing when this occurs is to understand that it isn't about us, but about them. It isn't about harming us but rather about taking them closer to having their perceived needs met.  

When dealing with others at the bargaining table, acknowledge you are still dealing with people that you should always treat with mutual trust and honesty. 

Even if this is not what you perceive you are getting in return, do it anyways. Do not engage in the very behaviours that you are condemning the other side for!

Also, when you communicate with the other side, always speak directly, openly, and honestly. 

Speaking directly will help ensure that you have gotten your point across as well as reduce the amount of politics you inject into your message.

Speaking openly shows respect for others in that you are not trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Speaking openly will also reduce the level of suspicion and therefore tension in the room.

Lastly, speak honestly. Too many people involved in collective bargaining stretch, bend, warp, or completely by-pass the truth...and it never turns out well. Be honest!  


I recall a situation that occurred a few years ago where the union and company leaders arrived at a verbal agreement.

The formal, written agreement was prepared by a representative of the company and then sent to the union for ratification. Unfortunately, there was a small accidental typo. 

Rather than the union leader sending it back and asking for a correction (in other words, trusting that it was an honest mistake and treating it as such), he turned it into a huge firestorm of controversy and blame, accusing the company of bad faith. 

Needless to say the agreement that had previously been arrived at was in the dumpster and the process had to start all over again.

This tip is closely tied to tip #1. 

Because the people involved in the bargaining process are human, mistakes may be made. Trust that they are legitimate mistakes (unless they are repeatedly made even after drawing attention to them) and let them go. 

Remember that the purpose of the bargaining is to arrive at a point where the needs of the company and the employees are met to the greatest extent possible. Picking up on small errors, stupid mistakes, and even cases of even bad judgment...and then using these to posture or derail the progress that has been made is irresponsible and contradictory to your overall goal.

Let them go.

Remember when you were a kid and a parent or teacher told you to give someone the benefit of the doubt? Give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Call attention to the error and ask that the error be corrected. If you are unable to progress further until the error is fixed, so be it...but keep a level head and be patient. 

Remember, mistakes happen and if you simply raise a calm awareness of the error to the person that made it, they will more than likely correct with little issue.


Anyone that has participated in collective bargaining will know that the process is more art than science.

It is, and can be expected to be, an iterative process where both groups move towards the point of agreement.

However, until that point is reached, a high number of proposed solutions may be put forth that some on your camp may not agree with...and become very vocal against! 

These are the 2%ers on your team.

They are the people that tend to live in a world of black and white and that hold on to the most extreme views. They are also the ones most likely to willingly engage in behaviours that sabotage the bargaining process. 

Historically, management and union representatives alike are very quick to draw attention to the 2%ers on the other side of the table but conveniently and quietly allow their own 2%ers to run amok.

Take off your rose coloured glasses and see your own people for who and what they are. 

Don't assume that everyone on your team is playing for the purpose you think they are. If it turns out that someone in your own camp begins to hinder the bargaining process, take whatever action you must to prevent them from doing so, even if it requires you to remove them. 

From our experience, both groups know who these people are but usually avoid taking the necessary action because they fear they will be accused (by the very person they are removing) of pandering to the other team. 

It is critical not to allow this to dissuade you from doing what you need to do. Keep the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish in mind.

Remember that there is much more at stake than one person's hurt ego. 

By doing so, you will be continue to represent your people in a positive light, demonstrate good faith in the process, foster greater trust and respect by everyone else involved, and keep the process moving forward.

In a unionized workplace, collective bargaining is inevitable but it need not be the stressful, painful, drawn out process if often is. The key to improving labor relations is to remember that you are dealing with human beings and always treat everyone involved respectfully.

While you can't control what the other group will do, by practicing the tenets of Cooperative Action, you will be able to walk away from the process knowing you did everything you could to make a normally unpleasant process more tolerable and successful. 

Dealing with people, be they management, unionized employee, or anyone else, is simple when we have learned and mastered our "human skills". Learn more about our Personal Mastery Program by clicking the button.