Harvard Law School’s Project on Negotiation has taken a look at this year's Chicago teachers strike and concluded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have provoked it by attempting to make changes in education policy without consulting the teachers union.
The report identified two moves by Emanuel that alienated the teachers. First, it said he persuaded the General Assembly to pass a law raising the threshold for a strike authorization vote from 50 percent to 75 percent. Second, he ordered the school board to cancel a 4 percent pay raise for teachers while at the same time raising the salaries of Chicago Public Schools executives. Emanuel further attempted to cut out the union by negotiating for a longer school day with individual schools.
Harvard concluded that Emanuel’s interactions with the Chicago Teachers’ Union offer a lesson and poor negotiating skills::
A strong case can be made that dramatic reforms are needed to improve the quality and viability of Chicago schools. But if one of Emanuel’s goals was to avoid a teachers’ strike, then his strategy of dodging and delaying negotiations with the CTU and limiting the number of issues on the table was counterproductive.
When you engage your counterpart as early as possible in the timeline of a negotiation, you demonstrate your interest in building rapport and exploring options together. And by refusing to put limits on the number of topics under discussion, you exponentially improve the chances of discovering tradeoffs that will satisfy both parties – and head off a strike.