3 Key Collective Bargaining Lessons From the Chicago Teachers Strike

Holy shiny red apple Batman, the Chicago teacher’s strike is over!

It was a rough seven days for parents and students in the nation’s third largest public school system. Child-care juggling, trying to keep kids on some kind of routine, extra school days tacked onto summer — a major inconvenience for thousands.

Friend and Chicago Public School parent, Phil Dunn, limericked his sentiments midway through the strike:

The teachers’ strike enters Day 4.

A copter again ends my snore.

There’s some hope it may end,

That both sides might bend,

And I really can’t take this no more.

Giving motivation to settle the situation

Eventually both sides did bend and, thankfully, kids are back in school.

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This debacle got me thinking: One of my most memorable experiences in graduate school at Cornell University was negotiating a contract through a collective bargaining simulation.

No agreed contract by 8 pm Friday night? The two sides received a big fat “F.” Yes, we were quite motivated to get that thing ratified. Not to mention, our beloved professor Sarosh Kuruvilla, had a tradition of treating the class to beers at a local pub after the exercise.

3 basic collective bargaining lessons

So Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Teacher’s Union, Chicago Board of Education — before you cause utter chaos for 350,000 children and their parents, please pause and remember these basic lessons we snotty nosed, naïve-yet-hubris-filled grad students learned in ILR Collective Bargaining 205:

  • Focus on interests, not positions. Reread the classic book Getting to Yes. An interest is the underlying need, while a position is how you satisfy it. Many negotiations are laser focused on positions, and the underlying interests (i.e. what’s best for the Chicago students) get lost.
  • Assume all are potential allies. The Cohen-Bradford Influence Model, found in their book Influence Without Authority, starts with embracing this mindset. If you think from the get-go the other side is out to screw you, it’s that much harder to find common ground.
  • Take someone else’s perspective. When you can step back and see the issue through the other person’s point of view and appreciate their world and true interests, you’ll have a much better understanding about what they can give and what they want from you in return.

Maybe we won’t live to see the day when Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis stroll arm and arm down Lakeshore Drive like old pals. That’s OK, as long as they remember to keep the students, and not periphery positions, at the heart of the conversation.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults and a change and human resources consultant, having served in diverse internal and external consulting roles for over 16 years. Prior to People Results, Marta was affiliated with Accenture where she held leadership positions in a number of successful large-scale people initiatives. Connect with her on Twitter at Twitter.com/MartaSteele or via email at msteele@people-results.com.

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6 Comments on “3 Key Collective Bargaining Lessons From the Chicago Teachers Strike

  1. Assuming all others are potential allies is hard and often overlooked. But, if you start out with that in mind – it opens a tiny crack in the door for some progress. Great post, Marta. And, so glad that the strike is over.

  2. Focus on interests not positions is great advice – especially for taking the emotion out of the situation. I witnessed some great negotiation yesterday and was reminded how important it is to keep emotions balanced. Thanks Marta!

  3. Marta, what a great post and thanks for the reminders of our wonderful Collective Bargaining 205 course!  I really can’t remember who was on my team, but I do remember such great learning with everyone and from Sarosh.  Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Great reminder Marta of how we so often lose sight of what we’re fighting for.  Taking a step back and looking at a situation objectively can make all the difference!

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