In the previous Town Halls, we covered the broad strokes of negotiations. Panelists from the Negotiations Committee spoke about their past experiences in negotiations and shared details of the ongoing work being done in this current cycle. We also reviewed the contract negotiations process, including how proposals are created, who is in the room, and what are typical arguments presented by the employers.
In the third of the Negotiations Town Hall series, Business Representative Steve Kaplan spoke with labor lawyer and Guild attorney Michael Feinberg to discuss further details of the negotiations process and strategy.
Please note that a significant portion of the conversation centered on specific examples that cannot be shared on a public platform to avoid compromising our negotiations strategy and preparations.
Who will be in the negotiations room for the upcoming negotiation cycle?
This cycle’s Negotiation Committee might be the largest to date! However, it might not be possible or practical to bring the entire committee into the negotiations room. If that is the case, a group of members from the Negotiations Committee will be selected in order to represent the concerns of the membership and to present on specific proposals.
How do we share proposals with the employers?
Shortly before negotiations, we send a list of our proposals to the employers. It is prudent not to reveal details of these proposals until they have undergone a rigorous process of revision and fine tuning, which is why we do not share them before this point. Once the proposals are polished, however, there are some advantages to sharing the list before walking into the negotiation room.
- Sharing the proposals allows employers to begin to consider the details of what we will be asking ahead of time, which makes the negotiation process more efficient. There will not be as many delays while they take time to gather needed information on the issues.
- Employers reciprocate the gesture in good faith by sharing their proposals in turn. The Guild will also be able to enter the negotiations room informed, and able to address the details of the employers’ proposals.
How long is allotted for negotiations?
- The duration of negotiations is varied, and the length is agreed upon by the Guild and employers. The time range is usually a span of days, usually we are allotted three days, but during the last cycle of negotiations, for example, it took us five days to reach an agreement.
- If negotiations are proceeding smoothly but taking longer than the agreed upon amount of time, the parties might agree to extend the duration of negotiations.
- In the event that negotiations extend past the deadline of the existing agreement, an extension agreement is written that will preserve the existing agreement through the duration of negotiations.
What does the negotiations process look like?
- The spokesperson for each side speaks on behalf of the group to present points and proposals. On the Guild’s side, the Business Representative acts as the spokesperson and presents the proposals crafted by the Negotiations Committee.
- Both parties go down the list of proposals point by point. Some proposals may reach a point of tentative agreement as others are still being bargained. If and when all points are fully addressed, the agreement between the Guild and the employers can be brought to Guild membership for a ratification vote.
- The two parties may separate for private caucus discussion. After reaching an agreement in the caucus, the spokesperson will speak on behalf of the group to present the decision. At this time, members of the Negotiations Committee will act as a united front, even if they might have had differing opinions during a private caucus.
- When arguing for certain proposals, subcommittee members might be called upon to give presentations in support of their proposals. These presentations can include member testimonials, poll data, outside research, and more.
- At times, a sidebar discussion might be held. This is a special type of open discussion between Negotiations Committee members and the employers on specific issues. During these discussions, each group can try to better understand the other side’s perspective of the topic while also sharing information about their perspective. These conversations are not “on the record” though notes are kept of all discussions.
What are some of the tools that are used in the negotiations process?
- The employers might request more information about specific proposals, such as research backing up certain proposals. Likewise, we can request further information on their proposals. In cases where the employers do not agree to a proposal, we might ask further questions to try and understand why they have said no.
- As a Local of the IATSE, we benefit from pattern bargaining, where certain entertainment industry unions have already achieved gains in earlier negotiations that we can aim to incorporate into our contract negotiations. Doing this allows us to dedicate our resources to pursuing other proposals that deal with issues specific to Guild membership
- Sometimes during these kinds of negotiations, a technique called “packaging” is utilized. A party might offer a tentative agreement on a proposal or proposals from the other side in exchange for a reciprocal tentative agreement on their own proposals.
How does the discussion evolve during the negotiations process?
- Often, the evolution of the discussion centers around working towards the membership’s priorities while addressing the priorities of the employers.
- In order to complete negotiations both parties need to find the agreement acceptable. This does not necessarily mean both parties will be completely happy with the agreement (though it is possible), but that both parties find the terms workable for the next contract cycle. To reach this point, each side will most likely have to make some concessions.
What happens if the Guild and the employers can’t reach an agreement?
- The process of negotiations between a union and employers has specific legally required steps associated with it. When two parties cannot reach an agreement and cannot make any further progress in discussions, this is called “Impasse”. A lot of back and forth discussion must happen before negotiations can reach a point that would be called impasse, and reaching this point would not happen suddenly or unexpectedly.
- When negotiations have stalled, either side has the option to request third-party mediation from federal or state mediation bodies. These third parties can act to restore negotiations that are approaching an impasse to a place that is acceptable for both parties. Both sides must agree in order for a third party to mediate.
- Prior to reaching impasse, employers issue a “last, best and final offer,” a specific type of legally binding agreement offer. Employers are legally required to implement the terms of this offer in full moving forward, even if the union does not ultimately accept the offer. The employers cannot rescind the terms in any way.
- If negotiations have reached a point of impasse, a union might regroup and discuss with its membership how best to proceed and make decisions about its next steps accordingly.
- At this point, the negotiation committee and Guild leadership would reach out to the membership to review priorities, and discuss strategies on how to proceed which could include overt membership actions.
Why do the employers negotiate with us at all?
- The employers benefit from finding terms that we can agree to. When there is an agreement with terms the membership finds equitable, it ensures three years of working stability between the Guild and the employers. To maintain productivity, it is in their best business interest to agree to terms that membership will find acceptable.
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