Guest Blog–Interest-Based Bargaining: Pays Off With Dividends

PSU has many stories about the successes of our faculty, staff and students. We acknowledge our excellence in teaching, research, service contributions, scholarships, and rankings. Shared governance successes and collaborations are also worth noting and celebrating. I asked the leadership of PSU-AAUP, PSU Administration and our Oregon State Conciliator to guest blog about their recent presentation on interest-based bargaining (IBB). I want to thank them for the blog, but more importantly for their commitment to work together to make PSU a great place to learn and work.

Guest Authors: Shelly Chabon, Janet Gillman, Phil Lesch, Pam Miller, & Leanne Serbulo

Last year PSU-AAUP and Administration invested their trust in interest-based bargaining (IBB) and our rate of return was strong. (See Provost Andrews’ blogs on IBB). Negotiations ended in a successful contract and, of importance, had lasting benefits on how we confront problems and explore potential solutions.

As Provost Andrews highlights in her blog, “The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) describes IBB as ‘a process that enables traditional negotiators to become joint problem-solvers. It assumes that mutual gain is possible, that solutions which satisfy mutual interests are more durable, that the parties should help each other achieve a positive result.’”

Janet Gillman, Oregon State Conciliator, facilitated all of our bargaining sessions. She observed that “the labor management relationship between PSU Administration and AAUP has undergone a transformation. Nowhere could this be seen more clearly than at the bargaining table in 2015-16. The parties’ adoption of an IBB approach to bargaining forged significant improvement in their ability to effectively address the needs of the university, AAUP-represented faculty and staff, and PSU students”.

Recently, four members of the team along with Janet, University Counsel Cindy Starke, and several other PSU-AAUP current negotiating team members traveled to NYC to attend the Conference of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions. The bargaining team members presented a workshop examining the benefits and challenges of using IBB. We shared lessons learned from our contract and ongoing negotiations as well as our accounts of how PSU’s labor and management teams have built on our valued relationship to achieve mutual gains. The conference was also an opportunity for us to meet informally, as PSU representatives and colleagues, and to participate in sessions together.

Phil Lesch, Executive Director of AAUP, noted that giving a joint presentation strengthened the foundation that IBB has become in the labor-management relationship. Pam Miller, PSU-AAUP President 2014-16, after witnessing an administrator and faculty member from another university engage in a public disagreement, added that our interaction was an excellent example of how IBB can help both teams be better listeners and negotiators. Although not a panacea, she asserted she will always stand strongly behind our good AAUP contract and how we got there.

According to Janet, this experience enabled us to “share perspectives on the journey from high conflict, adversarial labor relations to the emergence of a high functioning partnership marked by mutual respect, collaboration and constructive problem solving”.

We had a standing-room only crowd of university faculty, administration and labor-relations professionals. Phil was told that some attendees came to the conference just to hear our presentation and that it was referred to in several other sessions.

In Phil’s words: “Portland State and AAUP are succeeding with an interest-based approach that many in the audience of higher education bargaining team members found novel, appealing and effective”.

We have already been invited back to next year’s conference and to the Association of Labor Relations Agencies conference (ALRA) to be held in Portland this summer. This response is a testament to the increasingly apparent desire for earnest and evidence-based dialogue to support the development and maintenance of positive and productive labor management relationships and effective models of collective bargaining. Our capacity to achieve and sustain cooperation between the union and administration requires motivation, creativity, patience, tolerance for mistakes and a sense of humor.

We believe that IBB is something we can all bank on.

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