Solving A Negotiation Free-for-all

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 04, 2009
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It wasn’t long ago that President Obama reduced 2010 federal pay increases to 2 percent. Federal workers were expecting a 2.4 percent raise, but Obama’s reasoning was that the national unemployment rate and the size of the federal payroll demanded his actions. The full increase mandated by statute would have cost the government $22.6 billion. He decided to invoke his powers to put in place his own pay plan in a time of a national emergency and serious economic conditions affecting the nation. Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton used the same authority for the same reason.

Obviously, our state government is unable to invoke any kind of powers to balance the budget amidst an array of protests, lawsuits and a barrage of proposals and counterproposals. Why? The simple answer may be that the way the laws read now, there is no single branch of government here that has the power to make it happen. The sad truth of the matter is, by statute, the governor of Hawaii has the responsibility but not the authority to force anyone to the negotiations to do what her cabinet believes is the right thing to do.

The academic record shows responsibility without authority equals irresponsibility.

It is probably the most overlooked aspect of the negotiations going on in Hawaii right now. An important thing to consider in negotiations with the public unions is how the number of parties - either at the table, influencing what happens at the table, or impacted by what happens at the table - affects the dynamics of the negotiating.

Currently, there are almost too many parties involved, and its effect on the dynamics of negotiation has left the taxpayers and members of the public unions involved bewildered. The media assists in escalating the confusion because it helps ratings, but of course that does nothing to improve the laws governing negotiations between management and labor. There is much more attention paid to criticism than there is to understanding.

In simplest form, these talks between management and labor are supposed to happen between two isolated individuals, called negotiators, who negotiate for their own needs and positions. Each has the full power to decide on the acceptable outcome and finalize the deal. It’s not supposed to be an opportunity for those seeking higher elective office or individuals to increase their leadership roles as a result of the chaos. It is apparent that the condition of the negotiations right now is unmanageable, because there are more than two negotiators involved. In that situation there is strong and convincing evidence that alliances will be sought. What they are seeking is more strength in numbers or, as some have suggested recently, the coincidence of their interest.

The prevailing battle cry is, “We are doing this for the students!”

Like a perfect storm, these negotiations provide the rare, intra-team dynamics where some members have more power or status than others. It is like trying to match the commonality of the university professors with those of the United Public Workers. One group deals with high-brow research while the other is cleaning offices.

Let’s face it, the likelihood of finding common ground and thereby satisfying all the special interests decreases rapidly.

If you want to understand the complexity taxpayers are facing, add the presence of agents and constituents and then total them all up. There are way too many people involved. The truth is, negotiators, more often than not, act not only for themselves, but for others. Negotiators choose agents both to advocate their interests and to report back accurately on what has transpired during the deliberations, and that includes arbitrators.Another level of complexity is added when bystanders, audiences and third parties also become active in the negotiation. Example: It would be naive to think that the efforts of the HHSAA’s director, as noble as they were, have won him any favor from the negotiators by raising more than $1 million to bail out high school athletics.

The possible solution to this negotiating free-for-all: Simplify the collective-bargaining law by making it the way it was intended in the beginning. If the president can do it for the nation in chaotic economic times, why shouldn’t the governor? The state doesn’t have any money, and the situation is getting worse every day.

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