Tactics for Resolving Labor-Management Conflicts

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  • 0:07 Labor-Management Conflicts
  • 1:13 Bargaining Approaches
  • 3:00 Outside Help
  • 3:53 Playing Hardball
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Good labor-management relations are a key component to successful business practice. Conflicts can happen and can be destructive. In this lesson, you'll learn about some tactics used for resolving conflicts between labor and management.

Labor-Management Conflicts

Imagine that you are the person designated by the union to represent it with negotiations with the company. The relationship between workers and the company, which is an airline, is based upon a collective bargaining agreement. A collective bargaining agreement is an agreement between the union and the company. It addresses things such as wages, working hours, overtime and benefits.

The agreement is set to expire soon, and negotiations are underway for a new agreement. The airline is pleading poverty due to increased fuel expenses, a recent airfare war with competitors and a general decline in air travel since the last collective bargaining agreement was inked.

The union has complaints of its own. The membership agreed to certain wage and benefit concessions during the last round of negotiations because the company was struggling. It is aware that the airline issued dividends to its shareholders for the past few years and that certain upper level managers have received seven-figure bonuses. It is not in a mood to make further concessions.

Your job is to advance the interest of the union membership in your negotiations with management. You have several tactics at your disposal to resolve the current conflict and get a new collective bargaining agreement acceptable to the union.

Bargaining Approaches

You and your management counterpart can utilize a few different bargaining approaches. You could use a distributive bargaining approach, which is an approach that is often used during conflicts. In distributive bargaining, you are usually bargaining over such things as wages because it's often a zero-sum game - one side's gain results in another side's loss. In other words, if the union gets a wage increase for members, it means management will have less money for other things, such as dividend distributions to its shareholders. Your goal in distributive bargaining is to win as much as you can for the union. You don't care about the other side.

Another negotiation tactic is integrative bargaining. You can use this approach when multiple issues are on the table, such as wages, benefits and working conditions. In integrative bargaining, you and your counterpart across the table try to develop an agreement that is mutually beneficial for union members and the company.

You try to come up with an agreement where both parties get something out of the deal, which is why you need multiple issues. You engage in horse-trading - giving and taking on different issues so that everyone can gain some satisfaction from the end result. For example, workers may take a smaller wage increase in exchange for a better healthcare package.

Sometimes fences need to be mended before meaningful negotiations can start. Attitudinal restructuring is a tactic that you can use to heal some wounds, build some trust and good feelings. The objective is to create a negotiating environment where an agreement can be reached. Conflict isn't always just between labor and management; it can also exist within the union and within management. Different union membership groups may have slightly different interests.

For example, the interests of members near retirement are probably different than the interests of young workers. In intra-organizational bargaining, you are basically trying to build a consensus among the union membership so that you will have a united front. Management will be doing the same thing.

Outside Help - Mediation and Arbitration

Sometimes help is needed to push through an impasse in conflict resolution. You can tap the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for assistance. It will provide mediators to help you and your counterpart with negotiations. A mediator will try to help the parties reach an agreement but will not impose a solution upon the parties.

Even when a collective bargaining agreement is reached, conflicts may still arise about implementation, interpretation and violations of the contract. The collective bargaining agreement will usually outline the procedure used to resolve these disputes - called grievance procedures.

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