Audiences Don’t Help Negotiations

When you are a member of an important negotiation team and you wake up to a front page story that states, “Upgraded teacher evaluation policies get the green light,” you know you are going to have a rough couple of months. We have talked about how non-productive it is to negotiate in the media, and this is another classic example of why that is true.

The recent well-written story said that the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) will negotiate with the state on the details of a new plan to link teachers’ and principals’ pay to their performance.The timeline for the negotiations includes implementation during the 2013-2014 school year. All of these new policies are subject to collective bargaining negotiations with the HSTA.

It was a well-planned show for the media obviously staged by the Board of Education and the governor’s administration. Proof of that was the governor’s opening remarks saying, “Education reforms can wait no longer.” This kind of remark can do nothing more than arouse the competitive spirit of the HSTA, which continues to work under a “last, best and final” contract imposed in July with wage reductions. In January the teachers overwhelmingly voted down a proposed six-year contract that included a new evaluation system, performance-based compensations and tenure rule changes.

The taxpaying public deserves better. The HSTA, in a gross understatement, said, “Some language in the policies is worrisome, including a section that says, ‘The department shall involve teachers and principals’ in the implementation of revamped teachers evaluations.” Al Nagasako, HSTA executive director, told the board, “Give us an opportunity to work it out through our contract.”

Mind you, this is a plan that develops evaluation criteria at Hawaii’s roughly 250 public schools. It is a massive undertaking and during an election season. The concern is audiences make negotiators try harder and act tougher. Simply put, audiences increase a negotiator’s aspirations. Knowing that they are under surveil-lance can motivate them to act tough.

In this case, time pressures can significantly affect inflexibility. That’s why the management constantly mentions Hawaii’s participation with a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant. The idea is to create pressure on the teachers to accept anything they are offered. It’s not going to happen. It just makes for more competitive interactions.

What is happening is this negotiation is not just between management and labor. It’s not a one-on-one interaction anymore. So the condescending verbal harassment that had occurred was designed to undermine the opponent’s self-confidence or challenge them to be more cooperative. I don’t see that happening either. In fact, it may fuel a desire for revenge and even a longstanding, deep-seated animosity. It would be a mistake to underestimate the teachers’ resolve to be treated fairly.