It’s Negotiation Time Again

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Feb. 22, 2017

For districts with labor contracts expiring this summer, now is the time to begin preparing for your labor group negotiations. While over the past few years some laws have changed, removing certain topics from the bargaining table, this does not mean that the negotiation process has become easier. Indeed, as many Michigan districts continue to deal with falling enrollment and decreasing revenues, it has become 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. The most comprehensive, if not necessarily user-friendly, data you can utilize remains MDE’s Bulletin 1011 and 1014 data, often referred to as the “FID” data. The updated 2015-2016 FID reports was just released a few weeks ago.

Along with district-specific comparisons, matching actual community demographics can be helpful as well. Oftentimes, 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.

Finally, don’t forget that the MASB Labor Relations Conference is this Friday here in Lansing. A few spots are still available.

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