University, service workers jointly attend seminar on better labor negotiations

Representatives for Stanford management and for the university's almost 1,300 service workers came together to attend a seminar on a new way of conducting labor-contract negotiations. Members of both parties sat through the two-day course as one team and have since said that what was taught could make collective bargaining more amicable, and less adversarial, when they come back to the table this summer.

The seminar, held at Harvard University April 2-3, focused on an approach to negotiations called "interest-based bargaining," in which both sides seek common ground outright by first sharing opening statements about their overall interests and by exploring issues before the back-and-forth about specifics begins.

The process is a departure from "positional bargaining," which is how labor negotiations traditionally take place. In that model, opposing parties present their list of demands, hold their position and downplay the demands of the other side, with each asking for more than they really want and trading concessions for concessions.

"The joint training allowed all of us to see that our negotiations can be done in a respectful manner that focuses on the interests that are important to all involved," said David Jones, director of employee and management services at Stanford. The other six members of university management who attended the seminar included senior administrators from Human Resources; the School of Medicine; Building Maintenance; Residential and Dining Enterprises; Land, Buildings and Real Estate; and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

The bargaining unit, known on campus as the United Stanford Workers, consists of almost 1,300 employees across campus and at SLAC. They include maintenance workers, custodial staff, food-service employees, lab-support personnel and others. The group is represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The seven members who attended the seminar on behalf of the university's service workers included employees from the School of Medicine, Student Housing, Residential and Dining Enterprises, Facilities Operations, the president and vice president of United Stanford Workers (USW) and three staff members from SEIU's California division.

Jose Escanuela, president of USW and an employee in Stanford's Grounds Department since 2004, said interest-based bargaining opens up "the opportunity to listen to the other side and to communicate from the very beginning."

Adding that such a transparent approach to bargaining picks up on principles of alternative-dispute resolution, Escanuela pointed out that the interest-based model involves preparing and framing grievances and issues before actual negotiations begin. "We had a good experience out there," said Escanuela, a crew leader in Grounds. "Everyone got to know each other on a different level."

The seminar, "Negotiating Labor Agreements: New Strategies for Achieving Better Collective Bargaining Outcomes," was led by Professors Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld and Robert McKersie, co-chairs of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

The collective bargaining period at Stanford will begin in early July and run through August. Neither the university nor the bargaining unit has presented specific issues that they expect to negotiate.

"Our focus will be on interests which will lead to options," Jones said. "Our goal is that many of these options will be developed jointly by management and labor representatives."