rothers and Sisters... If you've ever wondered why we spend the money that we do, to send our elected Union Officials to the many IAFF Leadership Schools throughout the year - the answer should be contained in the text, below.  It's like getting a look inside "Mutt Leadership School." 

As always, know your enemy and FTM!   --Ed



By Wendy Widmann,
SPHR Administrative Services Director
City of Cocoa, Florida

We’ve  all  been  there.  You  spend  hours  preparing  for  the  upcoming  labor contract  negotiations.  You talk with supervisors, with employees, with middle management and department heads.  You pull out your notes from the past two years documenting  what  needs  to  be  changed  “the  next  time”  negotiations  are  open.  The contract is scheduled to expire October 1st, it’s early in the year, and you are prepared. You  have  your  notes  and  have talked with  the  City  Manager  or  County  Administrator and your labor attorney.  The next step is talking with your elected officials.  You meet with your elected officials and have a candid discussion about the shortcomings of the current contract and what should be changed.  There may even be a few issues that you need direction – such as the cost of health insurance or overtime computation - do you want to count sick leave hours taken as time worked for paying overtime or not?  Your budget buddy has prepared projected revenues and expenditures for   the upcoming year.  You  seek  direction in terms of wage increases  –  C.O.L.A.s (cost of living adjustments), step or merit increases, and/or market wage adjustments.  You discuss what the ramifications might be if no increases are given. You explain a little about your strategy – what you think is important to the union and the employees they represent. You  explain why you are going to hold out on some  issues.  This  group really seems to understand. You leave the meeting feeling good!  Everyone is on the same playing field.

The next week you meet with the union team.  This year the union  team is particularly contentious.  They will agree to anything as long as it benefits them.  They mention several elected officials that they  are going to talk with after the meeting is over, because they don’t like what they are hearing.  You leave the meeting knowing that this is going to be a difficult round of negotiations.

Within  twenty-four  hours you get calls from two of the elected officials questioning why you are not giving the union the management rights wording they want.  “There is nothing wrong with the union’s  proposal!  Are you trying to make this more difficult?” asks one of the elected officials.  The other elected official proclaims “I told them (the union members) that I would talk to you and get this issue resolved.”  Sound familiar?

At the start of negotiations, the management negotiation team must meet with the elected officials.  The purpose of this is two-fold:
1.To get input from the elected officials on wages, benefits, hours and terms and conditions of employment;  and
2.To train the elected official on their role in the negotiation process – and that role is to not get involved in                the negotiation process.

There are four issues we need to explore and understand in order to effectively train the elected officials.  They are:

Politics.   The first issue is politics, after all, that’s why we are talking to elected officials.  They, in most cases, are elected to the office by a popular vote of the residents/taxpayers in the community.  They must understand the negotiation process – from bargaining in good faith to impasse.  They must understand what some union members may do to them and be prepared.  The Public Service Research Foundation brochure, Labor Unrest and Public Policy, goes over what elected officials should know about union tactics.  It states: “Labor unrest makes the public  – and voters  – nervous. The natural political response is to seek an end to the unrest.  This, very natural political response gives unions a tremendous  advantage…”  The elected officials want the unrest to go away or be resolved but cannot get  involved directly in the middle of negotiations.  They need to let the trained, professional staff handle the job.

Elected officials get involved at the beginning of the process  –  in an executive session to provide direction to the management negotiation team and at the end – in a public  meeting to either approve the contract, or hear unresolved issues during the impasse proceedings and then to approve or impose the contract.

Saul Alinsky wrote Rules for Radicals, a primer for many unions, which outlines power tactics to use against elected officials and/or the management negotiating team.  In almost every county or city, labor relations staff can tell stories of a public official (or management staff) being targeted by union members during organizing campaigns or labor disputes.  If your Council or Commission are aware of what may happen, (or has seen this tactic happen to other elected officials) they may follow your advice and stay out of the negotiation process.  One of the most common techniques of union members is to target one or two elected officials who are not supportive of the union’s agenda. (Unfortunately, the union often finds this out by another elected official talking to them.) The union members then follow classic tactics – pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it (PSRF, p. 3).   The personalization of the attack is the most frustrating aspect of this tactic for elected officials to endure, since the very nature of being on a council  or  commission  is  group  consensus.Unless  our  elected  public  officials  can understand  and  deal  with  it,  this  tactic  gives  unions  a  significant  advantage  in  the negotiating  game.  Elected officials must not let radical tactics divide them.  A  good example of this is how the IAFF attacked two senators who worked to defeat the passage of the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (which is an IAFF- backed national collective bargaining bill.)  IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger opened the IAFF annual legislative conference by issuing a warning to those politicians they (the IAFF) felt worked against their bill.  He stated “We know who our friends are, we know who are enemies are, and we know who double -crossed us…. Senators, we’re coming after you.   And when we’re done, you’re going to know you’ve been in a fight” (NPELRA – Articles of Interest).  This is again, a classic Saul Alinsky union tactic – find the person(s) that disagree with you and attack them.  Woodrow Wilson recognized the importance of separating administration and politics.  He stated that  “…most important to be observed is the truth already so much and so fortunately insisted upon by our civil- service reformers; namely, that administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics” (Wilson,  1887,  p.  20). Even  in  the  earliest  of government  Wilson  understood  that administration   (and   negotiations)   should   be   separate   and   distinct   from   politics. However, when negotiations become contentious, politics all too often becomes part of the  process  (or  problem.) How  often  have  you  talked  in  an  executive  (or  shade) meeting with your elected officials, only to have everything repeated to the union?   (Or the  union  negotiator  comes  back  to  the  table  and  calls  the  chief  negotiator  for the employer a liar because he has personally talked to each board or council member, or commissioner, and they denied telling the management negotiating team to hold the line at 5%?)   Politicians don’t like to be put in unpopular positions, but they do us, as their management negotiation team, a grave disservice by getting involved when they don’t have all the facts or information.

When can elected officials talk freely to union members?  The stand of this author is that elected officials should never talk to the union about negotiations.  The elected officials should stay out of the process.  This can be done by listening to, not commenting on,  the constituent’s (or  unions) concerns.  In  Florida, the city charter delineates the role and powers and duties of the City Council.  While some cities still have a strong mayor form of government, which would require the mayor to be the chief administrative officer, most cities hire a professional city manager.  The  role  of  the council is to make broad policy decisions.  The role of the city manager is to run the day-to-day activities of the city.  This includes hiring and firing employees, determining wages and compensation and how to carry out the edicts of the City Council in an effective and efficient manner.  In addition, City policy may also require a proper line of communication, which generally is go to thru the chain of command (ie.  supervisor,
division  head,  department  head  and  then  City  Manager,  not  to  the  City  Council  with personnel or wage issues.)   Two cases in Ohio underscore the difference between the union’s  right  to  talk  in  a  public  meeting  vs. the  union’s  duty  to  not  by-pass  the negotiating process (13 Ohio P.E.R.  – 1334 April 8, 1996 and 13 Ohio P.E.R.  – 1369 April 11, 1996)  In the first case, the union and a member of the union negotiating team engaged in direct bargaining with the public employer’s governing board and proposed
a 50 cent an hour increase in the public meeting.   While the union argued they were exercising its First Amendment right to address a public body in an open meeting, the Ohio State Employment Relations Board found that the conduct violated the statutory requirement of good faith bargaining (NPELRA  –  Legislative  &  Legal  Updates).  The second case dealt with a union issuing a press release,  which  a  hearing  officer determined  violated  the bargaining ground  rules  of  the  parties  involved  to  bargain in good faith.  The message we need to reinforce frequently is that the elected official should not play a direct role in negotiations for several reasons:

1. One individual does not make decisions for the board/council/commission.  While an individual elected official           may not agree with the group during an executive meeting, he/she should not throw other members “in the                 ditch” to save face with union members.
2. Most elected officials have full time jobs and families and don’t have the time to fully understand and explore              the issues.
3. The union members will go to each elected official to get their position on specific issues, which may end up              being different than what was said in an executive meeting. This puts your negotiating team in a very awkward            position.
4. The negotiation process, when completed with a contract, or at impasse, must be voted on by the elected                 officials in a public forum.  Discussing issues before hand may give the union ammunition that the elected                  officials (or the negotiating team) were not bargaining in good faith.
5. Direct contact with the union undermines the negotiation process.  The labor relations staff have been given                direction by the group of elected officials and may have a strategy in negotiating to obtain a particular  issue               that is important to the elected officials.
6.The negotiation team has attended training to deal with negotiations; have professional credentials and have                developed a peer network to discuss problems and issues and have a professional working relationship with               the union team.
7. In  most  cases, it is a violation of the City Charter,  by-laws, or personnel policies for individual elected                      officials or staff to bargain outside the appropriate forum.

The bottom line is there are laws in effect that prohibit both parties from by- passing the designated representatives of the other party.  The employer has an obligation to bargain and the union must  bargain with the employer’s designated bargaining team. The union going to the legislative body and putting pressure on them is wrong; just like it is wrong for the employer to put pressure on or threaten employees about accepting issues being negotiated.

Finally, it makes it easier for us to train our elected officials if we know their backgrounds.  What is their education  and/or work  backgrounds?  Are they self- employed or government employees?  Are they retired?  Who do they really represent?  Is it an election year and for which member(s)?   How will that affect them?   If two or three of  the  elected  officials  are  up  for  re-election, they might want to take the public stance that will get them the most votes.

Unions. In training the elected officials, you also need to help them understand the goals of the Union whose contract is being negotiated.Some unions have very strong national, state and local agendas; others do not. Some unions encourage local political activity of their members and train them on how to direct deal, by-passing the management negotiating team.  In a recent NPELRA newsletter was an article on State and Federal Union Leaders Map Out Strategy for 2004.  Union leaders from all over the country meet to map out political campaigns and legislative issues to support. (AFL-CIO website)  Go to the NEA (National Education Association) or the IAFF (International Association of Firefighters) home page that shows how political unions have become.  The IAFF home page reveals: Politics  &  Legislation”  as  its  headline  with  four  key areas:  “Legislation & Issues”  which reviews the critical developments in Washington, D.C. that will affect IAFF members;  “Halls of Congress”, which connects members with their elected officials as well as provides legislative news; “FIREPAC”, which provides members with information and resources needed to build a strong political program (and help certain people get elected to office and to pass important  legislation);  and “Grassroots Activity”, which explains how to make “local politics into a powerful force for change” (IAFF  home  page).  It  is  clear  that  public  sector  unions  are  increasingly becoming involved in the political process, are not afraid to talk to the elected officials, and will do what needs to be done to get their point across.

While private sector unionism has declined, the public  sector has increased in strength.  In  2001, the unions’ share of the private sector was 9  percent; the government sector was 37.4 percent (Baird, C., p. 1).  Thus, most elected officials need to understand that unions are very much a part of business.  Virtually every City and County with police and firefighters will deal with unions.  Virtually every school board will deal with the teacher’s union.

Lastly, we also need to know who really is sitting across the table from us and what is their agenda?  What is their background and education?  Are they professional? How long have they worked for the agency and in what department/divisions?  If the team is older, with more senior employees, the issues near and dear to their hearts are going to be retirement and pension issues.  Younger team members tend to want bigger pay increases and clearly defined promotional procedures. 

Federal/State Law.  Collective bargaining is governed by federal and state statutory laws, administrative agency regulations and judicial decisions.  In areas where federal and state law overlap, state laws are preempted (Legal Information Institute, p.1).  The National Labor  Relations Act (NLRA) is a federal law enacted by the United States Congress in 1935 to govern the labor-management relations of business firms engaged in interstate commerce.  Most state collective bargaining statutes are patterned after the NLRA.  The National Labor Relations Board enforces the Act.  They conduct elections to determine whether employees want union representation and they investigate unfair labor practices by employers and unions (U.S.NLRB home page).  In 1970, the Act was expanded to include employees of the U.S. Postal Service, and colleges and universities.  Because most states have state statutes which governs state and municipal employees and labor negotiations, we will discuss bargaining procedures in detail at the State level.

For the purposes of our discussion here, we are going to discuss Chapter 447, Labor Organizations, Florida Statutes. This is the statute that   governs public employees in the State of Florida and defines the rights and responsibilities on the part of public employees and their  employers.  Chapter 447.309 states, in pertinent part, “The chief executive officer or his or her representative and the bargaining agent or its representative shall meet at reasonable times and bargain in good faith.  In conducting negotiations with the bargaining agent, the chief  executive officer or his or her representative shall consult with, and attempt to represent the views of, the legislative body of the public employer.”  These views are obtained during what is referred to as “shade” or executive meetings held between the chief executive officer,  or  his/her designee - generally the City Manager or County Administrator and his/her labor relations staff and the governing board, city council or county commissioners.  This is one of the few times the board, council or commission can meet in private and discuss issues that are not subject  to the public records laws (at  least  until  the  contract  is ratified.) 

While there are many approaches to the first meeting with the elected officials, you need to be prepared.  You should do your homework, you should talk with your supervisors and managers to find out what areas of the contract have been a problem and  what  are  some  possible  solutions.  You need to look at your  “competitors” - neighboring cities, counties and those of similar size, budget and geography.  You need to talk to your “budget  buddies” to get clear statistics, graphs and charts to  help everyone involved understand future anticipated, projected revenues and expenditures. This will help immensely in making wage or salary decisions.

As stated earlier in this paper, the first meeting with the elected officials has a two-fold  purpose.  One is to teach the elected officials the  negotiating process; the second is to get a sense of what is important to the elected officials – to get the view of the elected body as required by State Statute and local charter.  The most important part of the first executive session is to do a mini training session on the  negotiations process.This helps the elected officials understand the process, know what might happen and what they should and should not do during the process.  It is also important for them to understand what happens when impasse is declared and what the political and administrative ramifications will be  if they speak to either party –  union or management once impasse is reached. 

The employer is required to bargain over wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment of the public employees within the bargaining  unit.  The employer is required to bargain in good faith and to meet at reasonable times.  It does not mean that the employer has to give the union what it asks for.  However, the employer should be prepared to offer solutions to address problems.  The process can take a few weeks, several months, or it can take years.  Ideally, negotiations should begin in January for contracts that expire in October.  (This will help your budget buddy to be able to plug in anticipated figures in the budget for such big ticket items as salaries or insurances.)

The second half of the negotiation process deals with your City Charter and what it specifically allows or  does not  allow the elected official to   do in regards to negotiations.  Your City or labor attorney would be the best person to turn to for this part of the training, to discuss the elected  officials’ role in city government and the line between listening to constituents concerns vs. circumventing the negotiation process. The  more  the elected official becomes involved in negotiation issues, the more the union will deal directly with them and circumvent the negotiation  process. Elected officials must leave negotiations up to the management negotiation staff and defer any questions to them. This keeps them   off  the hot seat and potentially making commitments that they cannot make.  In  addition, many times union members are looking for the weakest link  –  the elected official that may not be supportive of their agenda - so they can bombard that elected official with information or personal attacks.

Chapter 447.403 Resolution of impasses.  If neither party can reach an amicable settlement during negotiations, one, or  both, of  the  parties  declares impasse.  This means that the parties have tried, but just can’t reach an agreement.  The impasse issues are put into writing and both  parties can agree to either go thru a special mediator, a special master or go directly to the legislative body.  The State of Florida Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) coordinates all impasse proceedings in the State of Florida for most state and municipal governments.

A special mediator is used when both sides mutually agree to this process.   A mediator is an impartial, third party who can sometimes get negotiations back on track or jump start an issue that neither party is willing to move on.

A  special master is also an impartial, third party.  Their role, however, is as a hearing officer and to make a recommendation to resolve the impasse.  PERC, upon notification of impasse, sends a list of seven special masters for consideration.  Each party alternately strikes out a name, until only one name remains.  Labor relations staff obtain information on each special master through organizations like NPELRA  or FPELRA, that track cases heard by the special master and whether the decision was favorable to the employer or the employee.The  special master  selected  conducts  a hearing  and  renders  a  decision.  This hearing keeps the elected officials out of the process, and if the neutral third  party supports the city’s position, it helps bolster the employer’s position.  The disadvantages of going thru a special master are that it takes time to set up and have the hearing; it costs money; and if the neutral hearing officer finds in the union’s favor, the elected officials have to decide to either reject the hearing officer’s decision or accept it.  The union and the employer can, however, elect to by- pass the special master and go directly to the legislative body.

If both parties agree to by-pass the special master hearing, or if either party rejects the recommendation of the special master, the legislative body conducts a public hearing and both parties present their positions.  Impasse hearings are the last chance for either party, although generally the union, to attempt to convince the legislative body of their position.  Impasse hearings are generally not fun.  Emotions are high, there is tension on both sides, and lawyers are frequently involved.  It is not unusual to see spouses and children with signs outside the council or commission chambers during an impasse hearing.  Fliers may be distributed to the public with the union’s position and requests to support the union’s position at the public hearing or people may hold signs on public roadways or areas with high traffic trying to garner public support.

If  the  legislative  body  buckles  or  changes  their  mind  during  this  process, they must realize the potential consequences of their actions.  The next time the union wants something  and  the  negotiation  team  says  no,  the  union  will  go  directly  to  the  elected officials.

Our second issue for an executive session is to get input from the elected officials and find out what is or is not important to them in this  contract.  We are required, by State statute, to get their opinion and to follow it, even if we personally or professionally disagree.  It’s o.k. to let the elected officials know how you feel and why, but in the end, the elected officials are the ones that make overall broad policy decisions
for the employer.  You may have to call an executive meeting during negotiations to get additional feedback or see if they are willing to change their stance on a particular issue that appears to be heading for impasse.

Professionalism. The last, but most important point to make is that we, as the employer negotiation team, are professionals.  Our job is to gather  information, meet with the elected officials in a non-public  meeting and present the issues and recommendations in a professional, factual manner.  It is our job to listen to the elected officials and carry out their direction on non-economic and economic issues, such as pay and benefits.  We are trained. Many of us have Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees in fields that will help us speak,  analyze and develop  strategies for negotiations.  We belong to professional organizations, such as N.P.E.L.R.A. (National Public Employer’s Labor Relations Association),  the  state agency, such as F.P.E.L.R.A. (Florida  Public Employer’s Labor Relations Association); have attended training, either at the national, state or local level on labor negotiations; have met peers whom we can call upon to see how they handled a particular problem;  have mentored  under another professional to see how negotiations are done; and have attained certification to prove our competency.

On the national level, we receive training and accreditation through the National Public Employers Labor Relations.  In addition, several  college and universities – Cornell has a particularly good curriculum - have labor relations degrees or certifications.  Individual states also have  Public Labor Relations Associations that provide annual training.  Several training sessions are held throughout the State on labor negotiations issues by private and public agencies.  The information learned at the annual conferences of NPELRA or FPELRA are helpful, as is the networking and sharing of information.  Success stories (and failures) are shared and we all learn from the experiences of others.

We need to convey to each newly elected official and repeat the training during the start of negotiations during the executive sessions that we  are  professionals, that they must trust us to do the job.  The more they get involved in the negotiation process or on contentious issues, the more difficult it makes our job.  While the elected official may have good intentions in talking with union members, by dealing directly with the union, they are undermining our efforts.  The union will soon be direct dealing through one or two elected officials and bypassing the management negotiation team.  This is contrary to the State law.  The elected officials must remember that we work for them, not against  them.  We  are  directed by them to negotiate a contract within the parameters that they have set for us.We  will  do  this,  looking  out  for  the  elected officials, the employer’s and the employees’ best interests.

In addition, it is important at the beginning of negotiations to set up ground rules, which can safeguard against direct dealing with the elected officials.  This can be done at the first negotiation meeting where both parties agree (and this should be put in writing) to negotiate only as a team at the designated times and places agreed upon. This can help prevent the breakdown of negotiations.

Lastly, the labor negotiations team must keep a good sense of humor and keep it all in perspective.  How many times have our elected officials directed us to “just say no”, but when they were confronted, either individually or at an impasse hearing, did a complete 180 degree turn around?  Despite all your training efforts, despite all your hard work, things happen. 

Remember, you did your job.  “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today.  It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”  (author unknown)

AFL-CIO. Work in Progress, Council rolls out Labor 2004. Retrieved on March 2, 2003
from the World Wide Web: www.aflcio.com

Baird, C. Foundation for Economic Education, Ideas on Liberty, Government Sector
Unionism. Retrieved on February 22, 2003 from the World Wide Web: www.fee.org

International Association of Firefighters. Home page. Politics and Legislation.
Retrieved on February 22, 2003 from the World Wide Web: www.iaff.org

Legal Information Institute. Collective bargaining and labor arbitration: an overview.
Retrieved on February 22, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

National Public Employer Labor Relations Association. Articles of Interest. House
Holds Despite Firefighters Effort on Collective Bargaining. Retrieved on February 22,
2003 from the World Wide Web: www.npelra.org

National Public Employer Labor Relations Association. Articles of Interest. Legislative
& Legal Updates. Recent Ohio Decisions Prohibit Unauthorized Direct Dealing with
Elected Officials by Unions. Retrieved on March 3, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

Public Service Research Foundation. (2001) Labor Unrest and Public Policy What
every public official should know about Saul Alinsky’s: Rules for Radicals. Retrieved on
February 22, 2003 from the World Wide Web: http://www.info@psrf.com

Shafritz, J. and Hyde, A. Classics of Public Administration. Harcourt Brace, 4th ed.
1997. The Study of Administration by Woodrow Wilson p. 20 p. 2

United States National Labor Relations Board. Home page. Retrieved on February 23,
2003 from the World Wide Web: www/nlrb/gov.

Wendy B. Widmann, SHRM
Director of Administrative Services
City of Cocoa
Chris Guella
Labor Relations Officer
City of St. Petersburg
P. O. Box 2842
St. Petersburg, FL 33731-2842
Phone: (727) 893-7419
Fax: (727) 551-3247