What’s the best way to achieve a good deal in collective bargaining? Stephen Koppekin, of Koppekin Consulting Inc., relies on three things: preparation, preparation, and preparation.

To start, Koppekin advises that it’s essential to know what the existing collective bargaining agreement costs are for his clients. Having an exact understanding relies on a significant amount of preparation. During your research, you’ll want to focus on wages. You’ll also want to have knowledge of all hidden costs associated with the deal. Common subjects of research include employee overtime hours, increases in merit, pension plans, health and welfare plans, discharges, grievance policy, disciplinary procedures, drug testing, meal penalties, rest period penalties, and promotions.


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Once you have analyzed all of the costs associated with the agreement, you’ll now have an outline of what must be achieved at the table. This outline will serve as a guide during the negotiation process.

When Stephen first started his collective bargaining career, he met with a union business manager and president for a pre-negotiation breakfast at a diner in Queens, New York.

“That breakfast lasted through lunch and dinner,” said Koppekin.

During the meeting, Koppekin and the union business manager had developed a respectable relationship. They also had a clear sense of each other’s goals. However, before the meeting ended, the union manager put Stephen in an unenviable position. He passed Stephen a piece of paper and a pen.

“Write down what you’d be willing to spend over the life of the contract,” he said. He pulled out his own pen. “Afterwards, we’ll exchange.”

Stephen was caught in a “polite catch 22”. While he did not approve of this bargaining method, he was eager to continue building trust with this man. The outcome yielded interesting results. Stephen wrote down .25 cents; the union business manager wrote down .20 cents.

Stephen’s offer was higher.

While the business manager might have jumped at the opportunity for the increased price, Stephen’s hard work at forging a trusting relationship paid off.

“Kid, give me the twenty and you owe me a nickel,” the business manager said.

The two men shook hands and went to work at the bargaining table.

Stephen’s anecdote illustrates the power of preparation. He was prepared to sit for days at that diner and develop a working relationship with the business manager. In the end, Stephen emerged as an honorable partner capable of negotiating goals and interests. A foundation rooted in trust will consistently make the process easier and more successful and will last for many more contract negotiations.