SULLIVAN — Hoping for a smoother road, negotiators for teachers and Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) are embarking on contract talks from a new vantage point known as interest-based bargaining.
The approach often described as “win-win” was suggested to the board by negotiators for the Down East Education Association.
One of the key features of interest-based bargaining is the use of a facilitator to oversee negotiations, in this case from the Maine Labor Relations Board.
“We are hoping this will be a more amicable and collaborative process,” said Christine Sandberg, a co-president of the association, one of three union negotiators and a librarian in the district.
Sandberg said the suggestion was made to Superintendent Michael Eastman, who brought it before the board. Members said the approach had been used before School Union 96 consolidated.
Jeff Alley Jr., chairman of the board’s Personnel Committee, said the theory is to approach contract talks like a mediation session rather than as two opposing partners with separate agendas.
The Maine Labor Relations Board said interest-based bargaining, also called preventive mediation, is an attempt to move labor and management from traditional confrontational and positional bargaining to problem-solving bargaining.
“They do not come to the bargaining table with proposals as in traditional bargaining,” according to the board’s website. “Instead, they present problems to be solved and work together to seek solutions.”
Alley said his experience with Union 96 and interest-based bargaining is that teachers and board representatives identify problems and then brainstorm solutions within certain parameters.
“You don’t want the solution you come up with to create another problem,” he said.
He said he found it works well on smaller issues, but can become a sticking point as the talks veer to what is often the big topic — money.
The personnel whose contracts are being negotiated usually believe they are entitled to more money, Alley said.
“The other side, the board, recognizes they are going to have to pay more, so you end up haggling to find an area you can live with.”
“Usually no one walks away happy,” said Alley. “I’m hopeful we’re going to make even that work well.”