Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 13 - update 25

The Lance interviews Dr. Allan Bonner, MA, MSc, LLM from Allan Bonner Communications Management Inc. to help make sense of labour disputes.

Bonner discusses what happens when one side takes out an ad and the impact it plays during negotiations, why either side would be interested in discussing their issues with the public, and how persuasion from the public at large can affect a union's vote to ratify a contract offer.

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Lance: What kind of a role can the public's opinion play in negotiating a deal between two parties.
Bonner: Oh, huge. I refer to a whole series and list of what I call non-table participants. So if you've got a faculty association, and you've got the administration, that's great, and they're at the table and they're talking away. But who is severely affected by this, or who may want to have an affect on this? Students, donors, neighbours, Joe Citizen, legislators, ministry of ed., there's all kinds of people, so to think that there's just the two of them at the table, is not a great idea.

L: How is it to either of their advantage to appeal to the public?

B: Because if you can create a non-table participant who is what I would call the 'Hammer' or the 'Sword of Damacles,' where the Minister of Education says, stands up and says, "Look I've had 47 letters on this this morning and phone calls, and if these people can't get their act together, then I'm going to intervene or I'm going to withhold funding."

Or maybe you get, Bobby Kennedy Jr. has spoken once or twice in Ontario. Maybe he says, 'I'm not going into a university campus where there's a labour dispute, they've got to fix it. Maybe Jack Layton says the same thing. Maybe donors, maybe T. Boon Pickens, you know, the University of Guelph is being funded by NASA, and some other things, interesting high tech, I don't know who's funding the University of Windsor research, but maybe they say, 'Look, I'm going to suspend donations until they get their act together.'

And don't forget, the bargaining committee of the union and the management reps, they have to go back and sell the package to their constituents, too. They're at the table and they've got to go back and sell it to their members, and it's like concentric circles, there are stakeholders farther away from the table.

L: So is there a direct relationship between a picketer perhaps preventing another employee from crossing a picket line to go to work, and actually resolving a contract?

B: Well, it's conceivable. You've described an isolated incident. The picketer is probably, you're allowed to have an information picket, at least you always were, and then picketing is governed under labour relations legislation, I think you can require people who want to cross the line to have a management escort, all that sort of stuff.

L: I understand that in terms of educational disputes, the provincial government, it would take a serious step for them to interfere with someone's legal right to strike. Has this happened before in your experience? What would have to happen for the provincial government to interfere with someone's right to strike?

B: Well, it depends on how you define 'interfere,' but in the papal visit in 1984, or '85, you could look it up, I believe the provincial government passed pre facto legislation preventing a TTC strike. In America, you just can't strike if you're at the post office, it's considered an essential service. Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers when they struck, early in his tenure. Sometimes labour strikes are ended through legislation, sometimes they're prevented by legislation. Sometimes they're prevented forever, and you may never strike, sometimes they are prevented for a limited amount of time.

That's all very unusual. The pre facto prevention was unusual. Post facto isn't all that unusual. I think legislating postal workers when they struck, and TTC, they had to go back to work eventually. Mandating arbitration or mediation, not all that unusual.

L: One of the parties took out an ad, and advertised how much they offered. How can that affect negotiations, when you take out an ad and you try to appeal to the public?

B: Negotiations don't occur in a vaccuum. All the members of the union and the management of the university all belong to families and clubs from walking down the street, and go shopping and what have you. And people are continually saying, 'What's this all about?' They have to have a response. Now, there are some aspects of labour relations that are very difficult to explain easily in the super market aisle when a neighbour runs into you. You know, carrage rights, pension calculations and the ability to take pension benefits when you retire, the affect of benefits on your family, this can get very complex.

You add up all that kind of stuff and one side may say, the union is being offered 'x.' Every union member is getting 'x' extra dollars a year onto this settlement. Well, the other side may say, 'No, it's 'y' number of dollars and it's 'z' amount of benefits.' Quantifying the benefits is difficult because you haven't used the benefits. You don't know if you're going to need eye glasses in the next year. There are a lot of different ways to shave any kind of statistic.

When you communicate the larger public about it, obviously people are talking about it in coffee shops and ... saying, 'Why don't these people get offered more? What is the matter with management? Aren't they stingey! How on earth can a university professor live on that, and why aren't they treated better?'

OR if they're saying, 'Wholly molly, I had no idea these guys were teaching 12 hours a week, and they're making $90 grand a year and they still want more, get a life!" Now that's going to have an affect on the vote that's eventually taken by union members and whether they're going to accept and ratify the contract. It's going to have an affect on how bold the negotiating team is because they read the paper and they listen to the radio and they watch the tv. When you walk into the room when you're being lampooned in public on radio, tv and print, and you walk into the room, maybe the other side ... well, it puts you in a bad position.

L: In your experience, when one side takes an ad out and goes public with the negotiation terms because they've hit a stalemate and expose what the other side turned down, how does that affect relations between the two, and what is that generally a sign of in terms of negotiations.

B: Depending on how the ad is worded, it can signal a new level of animosity, it can be muscle flexing. Maybe one side, for example, has more money and resources to take out ads, and it's considered dirty pool, or unfair, or unlevel playing field. It can cause a hardening of positions, let's say.

If it's phrased nicely, 'We just wanted you to know...' and all that nice, namby pamby language, maybe it is viewed as an information piece.

L: One of the concerns, chiefly, is that one side has been saying, 'It's not all about money. There are other concessions that we're looking for, that we're trying to get.' The ad itself said, 'We offered this much of a raise,' and it takes the idea that this wasn't all about money, then shows the money figures, to make people believe that it is about money. It derails the direction that everyone was moving in.

B: A very, very common tactic. You don't usually want to say it's about money, although if you're way behind, there would be occassions where you might.

Then Allan Bonner referred me to an interview he'd done called 'Transit Pie.'

I forget, if you look at that, you can see that the TTC took out a $100,000 ad, and I didn't understand what they're point was. I'm sort of, I was interviewed and asked if this was a good idea. I said, 'Maybe, but what are they trying to tell me? What is the issue here? I couldn't get it for the life of me.' Often the union feels it needs to create some communication to shore up its position with its members, but for the general public it's incomprehensible. That's another problem.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's "their", not "they're".

1:57 AM

Blogger The Trail said...

It sure is! You get that Rogers?

Though if you're going to edit [anonymously, even], start back in 2006. There's probably hundreds back there.

5:20 PM


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