Tough Times For Hawaii Unions

Larry Price
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Wednesday - August 30, 2006
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These are rough times for union members trying to negotiate better contracts. The situation at the Turtle Bay Resort took four years to settle, and the nurses on Kauai have been out more than 60 days. And now the hotel workers’ union Local 5 has a strike authorization vote to carry into their negotiations with a group called the Laulima Council.

The Laulima Council is the negotiating arm of the Hotel Association. They coined the name Laulima because it sounds better than a management council. It’s a Hawaii word that means “many hands working together for a common cause.”

One week before Local 5 was going to take their strike authorization vote, the “council” was running big ads in the general media challenging the leadership of the union by suggesting that the members weren’t getting straight information from their stewards at the bargaining table. The ads specifically referred to bargaining items like pension plans, contributions to health and welfare plans, and much more.

The Laulima Council did not want the strike authorization vote to succeed; however, it was a strong show of support for the union leadership. There is a good reason for their concern because the members Local 5 have been working without a contract since June 30, 2006, so with the authorization vote they could strike without the usual 30-day notice. It is solid form of negotiating leverage at the bargaining table.

The punchline to all these ads was, “Vote to stay at the table.” Well, the ads didn’t work and the Laulima Council must now provide new information to the public about the collective bargaining negotiations with Local 5.

Of course, the hotel union has a much bigger problem. It is dealing with the welfare of more than 5,000 workers, the state’s bustling economy and a fragile tourism industry. Everyone is standing by with bated breath to see who will prevail.

It’s interesting to note that the law doesn’t encourage this kind of public airing of collective bargaining negotiations. It’s not a good idea, and for management it’s very close to an unfair labor practice.

The National Labor Relations Act “Declared it to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the excise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection (1974, Public Law 93-360).”

At this point negotiators must choose between one of two completely different negotiations styles or approaches: being tough or being soft (Bazerman & Neale 1992).

The tough negotiator makes high demands, concedes little and holds out until the very end. In contrast, the soft negotiator typically offers too many concessions and wants the other party to feel good (Lewicki & Robinson, 1998).

The good news is being tough or soft are not the only choices for the negotiators. The taxpayers should watch with interest as negotiators from both sides choose whether to take an interest-based, legalistic or rights-based, or a power-based (i.e., via threats), and how it will affect the outcome of the negotiation.

In the private sector, trying to involve the public by running ads enlisting the aid of elected officials to support one side or another does not serve anyone well. Those political candidates seeking elective office marching in the picket line on Kauai with the nurses was shameful behavior. What the law demands is balance. Laulima that with the taxpayers if you have to hold hands with someone.

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