I realized that I could become a successful labor negotiator on behalf of school districts during my very first bargaining session as a district’s at-the-table spokesperson. It was in 1980. A very experienced bargainer from the National Education Association-Alaska (NEA) was representing the teachers’ union. We were bargaining in a remote Eskimo village in Southwest Alaska in a school district that was responsible for providing K-12 education to approximately 11 Yup’ik Eskimo villages. In bush Alaska, where roads are scarce, travel is primarily by small single engine planes. The district’s team was late for the first session due to weather and other delays. The union team had arrived a day earlier. After introductions, the very first words out the NEA person’s mouth was to demand that the District compensate him and his team members for the costs caused by the district’s delay such as meals, lodging, telephone calls, etc. How would you have responded?
I did not delay or request a caucus with the district’s team. Rather, my immediate response was “Of course we will. Let us know the costs. However, we expect reciprocity. If the bargaining is delayed by the union’s inability to get to a bargaining location on time, the district’s team will require that it be compensated by the union for those very same costs, including fees that I will be charging the district for my time sitting around waiting for the union. ” The matter was instantly dropped and bargaining proceeded.
I realized then and there that I had the instinct for bargaining and for sensing the right response at the right time.