Time to Consider Interest-Based Bargaining?

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Oct. 18, 2017

If your district is struggling at the bargaining table with a perceived lack of trust and honesty between the parties, it may be time to initiate a different approach to the process. Interest-based bargaining is a collaborative-based strategy, led by a facilitator, which is designed to bring both sides together as a single “team” in order to build rapport and solve issues.

This is in contrast to the typical “positional” or adversarial bargaining convention, wherein each side approaches the matter with fixed (and often opposing) viewpoints and a hope that some sort of compromise can be struck. Of course, as many districts know, a compromise that is acceptable to all sides is not always in the cards, leading to a protracted bargaining process, mediation, fact-finding and the like. Moreover, when compromises are possible, they are often of a “split the difference” variety, generally leaving both sides feeling somewhat dissatisfied.

Under IBB, one set of problem solvers, comprised of team members from both groups, convene to identify the interests behind the various possible positions, and look to develop win-win solutions. Such collaborative, integrative results are often far more gratifying for all involved and, if the process is facilitated correctly, will not only maintain good relationships, but foster a tighter bond between employees and administrators.

IBB facilitators are trained to draw out discussions that explore why certain demands exist within a given constituency and to foster discussions regarding the needs, desires, hopes and fears that are driving those demands. Under this guise, the underlying interests of both sides are discussed in order to increase the chances of finding solutions that will benefit all parties. IBB takes the rhetoric of “this is OUR demand” and “that is THEIR problem” and turns the conversation toward a dynamic that is more along the lines of “these are the challenges WE, as a district, face. Let’s explore solutions together.” The whole group now takes ownership for devising solutions that balance the district’s goals of student achievement and financial viability with the need to fairly compensate employees and recognize their value.

If your district is looking to move past the traditional adversarial bargaining approach, now may be the time to think about Interest-Based Bargaining. The Michigan Education Association has embraced this process and the lawyers here at MASB are now trained and certified, through the MEA, to facilitate IBB. We have built a rapport with some of the best MEA uniserves throughout the state, and can work with them to achieve a successful result for both the district and its employees. Whether the two sides agree on a single IBB facilitator or decide to incorporate a co-facilitator arrangement (which would incorporate a MASB facilitator working side-by-side with a union facilitator), this concept may be exactly what your district is looking for.

Contact Joel Gerring ( or 517.327.5922) or Kacie Kefgen ( or 517.327.5914) for more information.

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