June 16, 2014
During his 40-year career as a union activist, negotiator and official, Tom Jennings has had the opportunity to closely work with some of the most vibrant labor organizations in the country – including AFSCME, DC37, AFGE and the New York State Nurses Association. Now, Jennings has taken that vast reservoir of labor expertise, drawing on both the public and private sector, and launched Collective Bargaining Service (www.collectivebargainingservice.com) – an independent consulting firm dedicated to securing fair and equitable contracts for fellow unionists.
Collective Bargaining Service advises labor unions in their ongoing pursuit of better contracts. Although there are other labor-related consulting firms out there, relatively few actually work on behalf of labor unions. And while most unions employ in-house staff to engage in collective bargaining activity and related strategies, an expert consultant truly dedicated to working men and woman can offer clients a different perspective, perform special research, and offer advice that could give organized labor an edge at the bargaining table.
Management hires consultants, so why not Labor Unions?
A quick online search for labor management firms or consultants, will yield plenty of firms that bill themselves as “labor management.” But these outfits usually turn out to be anti-union, and, in fact, union-busters. Management clearly has access to a variety of high-powered consulting firms specializing in helping them find ways to reduce worker health, pension and wage benefits – while also crafting arguments for more privatization and contracting out. In an era of proposed management cutbacks, reductions in health benefits and pensions, as well as significantly lower wage settlements, unions must consider whether there is a role for a pro-union consultant. After a series of recent and unjustified cuts, labor unions are beginning to understand that they need to be better prepared – and that preparation is crucial to successfully obtaining improved benefits, wages and other contractual provisions. Jennings is confident that Collective Bargaining Service has the know-how and experience in contractual campaigns stemming from both the private and public sectors, to assist labor unions with the comprehensive research and strategic advice they need to deliver a decent and progressive contract to their members. Today, it’s more important than ever, for unions to be totally prepared with all options researched and discussed prior to any bargaining session. One way of doing that is by obtaining relevant information from union members through the use of demand surveys. Indeed, the example and methods that the Chicago Teachers Union used in their most recent contractual campaign is a case in point. They began the contract process approximately 12 months in advance. That time frame proved to be especially effective, and showed that comprehensive preparation is, in fact, critical for success.
Financial Analysis Experience Essential
For a significant portion of his 40-year career, Jennings was a budget and fiscal analyst with a number of federal agencies in Washington D.C. He spent a full decade analyzing budgets in both the private and public sectors. And, as everyone knows, the bottom line to successful negotiations revolves around improved wages and benefits – or money on the table. Jennings has learned that labor can never trust management to “tell the whole truth“about their financial status – and he has developed the analytical skills to bring the truth to table.
Jennings and Collective Bargaining Service stress a comprehensive approach to collective bargaining with well-organized internal membership and political/community campaigns. Since the bargaining process is constantly evolving, emphasis needs be placed on continuous and updated information being sought and taken into account. Tactics also need to be frequently rethought and adapted to particular bargaining circumstances, and open communication with members must be maintained throughout. It is also important for unions to find community allies who can present the unions’ view – as it is not always possible to be your own advocate. Politicians must understand that you elect them, and you can work to defeat them. They must be constantly monitored and held accountable, just like management.
Overall, the aim of Collective Bargaining Service is to be a trusted partner at the bargaining table with unions that can benefit from its special skills and experience. Labor union consultants have a vital role to play in the negotiating process – and organized labor needs all the support it can muster to achieve the kind of contractual success that hardworking members expect.