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Contract Bargaining Season is Almost Upon Us: Is Your Team Ready?

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Jan. 14, 2015

For districts with labor contracts expiring this summer, now is the time to begin preparing for your labor group negotiations. Although recent legislation has created a new class of prohibited subjects of bargaining and therefore eliminated some topics from the table, this does not mean that the negotiation process has become easier. Indeed, with many Michigan districts dealing with falling enrollment and decreasing revenues, it is often more difficult than ever to reach an agreement that is fiscally responsible for your district while also satisfying the labor groups.

Being prepared for the negotiation process requires not only some knowledge concerning your district’s current financial situation, but also an understanding of revenue, expense and fund balance trends over the past few years. Likewise, knowing how your district stacks up to nearby peer districts will give your bargaining team an edge when the inevitable comparisons between your compensation offer and those of other districts are raised. There are several sources available to obtain the relevant data (such as FTE counts, fund balance trends, revenue/expense reports, etc.) including MASB’s own Employment Relations Information Network (ERiN),the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency, the Center for Educational Performance and Information, and others.

Along with district specific comparisons, matching actual community demographics can be helpful as well. Often times, bargaining units will make compensation comparisons between your district and another but will (inevitably) choose a comparison district that your district does not match-up with favorably. By developing your own comprehensive comparison presentation your team can demonstrate that it is offering a competitive compensation package given the relevant market. Such a presentation can incorporate not only district enrollment and revenue numbers but also community measurements such as median income, unemployment, overall population and the like. Proximity One is an excellent resource for this type of community comparison information.

Finally, while this data may not always be considered compelling by the group sitting across from you at the bargaining table, having it available to the community at-large (by posting it on the district website) can help inform and educate district residents. Likewise, if negotiations prove unfruitful, having an accurate and concise data presentation already compiled will put your team that much farther ahead going into Mediation or Fact Finding.

In addition to coming to the bargaining table armed with real data points, it is also important to:

  • have a strong bargaining team in place;
  • communicate effectively (both with your team and with your labor groups);
  • develop a negotiation strategy;
  • set proper goals; and
  • learn how to deal with “pressure tactics.”

The MASB Bargaining Toolkit is an excellent introductory resource. Moreover, the MASB Labor Relations staff is always available to provide on-site workshops, as well as manage the actual bargaining process. We can assist with everything from developing a presentation, contract analysis, background support, at-the-table bargaining, Fact Finding, Mediation and beyond.

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