A labor relations specialist I once knew was recognized as a hard-core negotiator. When I was a principal and part of the administrators’ association, I found myself on the other side of the table from him and I remember feeling that our side was outmatched. Later, as a superintendent, I often turned to him for advice in negotiations within my own school district. He was still hard-core, and I usually had to modify his advice to fit the culture of my district, but he knew how to work successfully with labor.
In the many years I worked with him, he gave me two pieces of advice that I never forgot. First, he said, if you have to choose between being respected and being liked, you have to choose being respected. Second, in terms of negotiating a contract, you need to keep in mind that the other side has to look like they’ve accomplished something for their membership. They have to save face. And if you’re lucky, he added, the other side understands that it works both ways: you have to be able to take something good back to your board.
Keeping in mind the need for each side to respect the other, we were able to negotiate a number of contracts over the years that left faculty feeling that the board of education appreciated their work and would do the best it could for them given our limited resources. For their part, faculty used restraint and good judgment in presenting their requests. Preserving the cooperative culture of the district was important to both sides.
So here I am in Madison, Wisconsin where in an ugly parody of the democratic process teachers’ rights to bargain have been rescinded by the Republican legislature. I’m here working with Magna Publications to record some educational videos, which are advertised and sold nation-wide, not just in Wisconsin. But I have to wonder how Wisconsin teachers are feeling today and how eager they’re going to be to work hard to improve instruction through extra hours of staff development.
Wisconsin Republican politicians, of course, ignored the basic tenets of negotiation, if you can call it that. In fact, some suggest the legislators are little more than bullies. At any rate, Republican legislators in Wisconsin don’t have to worry about being liked or being respected. Among educators in Wisconsin, they are neither.