clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

CBA talks take a very interesting turn, mediator anyone?

Well it has been announced that after a couple weeks without much in the way of talks the MLS and the MLSPU will sit down next week, that isn't too much of a surprise with the season less than 3 weeks away.  The big news is that they won't be alone as George H. Cohen, Director of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, will be joining them.

This is a huge step and hopefully will lead to the talks moving forward, but mediation often means that both sides will have to give up items on their lists of wants and demands.

Director Cohen is a Obama appointee who has a background as a labor lawyer (which could be important), here is the brief bio for him from the White House website:

George Cohen has had an extensive and distinguished career as a labor lawyer, negotiator, and mediator. During the period 1966-2005 he was a senior partner at Bredhoff & Kaiser, a Washington, D.C. law firm with a national practice, specializing in representing private and public sector labor organizations in collective bargaining involving a wide variety of industries and government entities. Prior to entering into private practice, Mr. Cohen served as an appellate court attorney with the National Labor Relations Board. He is a graduate of Cornell University and its Law School and earned a LLM degree from Georgetown Law. In the past three years he has been engaged in a solo practice as a mediator. He is a member of the prestigious Mediation Panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and has successfully mediated numerous complex, high profile disputes. From the mid 1970's thru 2005, Mr. Cohen was an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law School where he taught the Art of Collective Bargaining and other labor courses.

So what does a mediator bring to the table?  Learn more after the jump:

From the FMCS website

What can a mediator add to collective bargaining negotiations?

A - The mediator can improve the bargaining process in a number of ways:

  • Help establish groundrules for the negotiations, and realistic expectations. 
  • Help the parties decide what form of negotiation will be most effective in a particular situation: traditional, interest-based or a hybrid. 
  • Help clarify and crystallize issues and differences. Mediators try to deal in the world of interests rather than positions. Frequently, the parties both want a similar outcome. They just have a different view of how to get there, or sometimes, they just phrase it differently. Often, their goals are separate, but not contradictory. When the parties understand the underlying interests that drive bargaining positions, they can identify and agree on matters that are not really in dispute and then focus on the real issues that separate them. 
  • Help the parties define the problem. What is perceived as a personal or relationship problem may actually be a systems problem. Just as importantly, the mediator can help the parties fully explore and understand long and short-term alternatives to their proposed solutions. If there is no agreement on a particular issue, what happens? If there is no agreement on a contract, what is the worst alternative? What is the best alternative? What are the costs of non-agreement or continued disagreement? 
  • Convene and adjourn bargaining sessions and joint meetings. An effective mediator knows when joint or separate meetings are productive and when they're not. They know that, sometimes, it's important to let the parties vent in joint meetings, and sometimes it's better to adjourn and give one or both sides time to regroup, reconsider, or just cool off. 
  • Help keep the talks moving along, focused and on track. 
  • Generate new options. It's very natural for negotiators, who've been developing and living with contract issues, to "lock in" on one approach. The mediator, as a neutral third-party, can take a more objective view and suggest options that more smoothly achieve bargaining aims. 
  • Help improve communication, which is usually the greatest impediment to successful outcomes. This can range from rephrasing statements so that all parties clearly understand what is being said and what is meant, to mediator "supposals." These supposals allow exploratory proposals to be offered for discussion by the mediator without ownership and attendant risk to either party. Mediators can also meet off the record with the parties, and they often engage in "shuttle diplomacy," moving back and forth between separate meetings of the parties carrying offers and counter-offers. 
  • Provide or share information. When both parties have access to the same information, miscommunication and misunderstanding can frequently be avoided. Obviously, there might be information that one party considers proprietary and does not wish to share, but just as often, there is information that both parties can use to better evaluate the situation. And sometimes, it's as simple as the mediator letting both parties know what's going on elsewhere in the country or in a particular industry that would be relevant to the negotiations. 
  • Handle or help manage relations with the news media. Mediators understand the sensitivity of negotiations. They may ask the parties to refrain from making any statements to the news media while the talks are in progress, or at least, to avoid trying to negotiate in the press. At other times, the parties may ask the mediator to handle the press contact. The mediator can assess the impact of the negotiations on a community and decide what to say and what not to say. 


I am no expert in mediation but here are some of the results this department has gotten lately:
Release Date: 2/12/2010

With the help of a federal mediator, the GRTC regional bus company in Richmond, Va. and its workers' union have reached a tentative agreement on a new, short-term employment contract. The Amalgamated Transit Union's Local 1220, which represents 278 members of GRTC's 492 employees, rejected the company's contract proposal last month. After meeting with a federal mediator, the union and GRTC officials were able to reach agreement and resolve the impasse. Members of the workers' union still must ratify the proposed contract settlement before it goes into effect.

Release Date: 2/5/2010

Representatives of the 2,500-member Clay County Education Association teachers union and the Clay County, Fla. School Board reached a tentative agreement on compensation following eight months of contentious negotiations. After the union declared an impasse in December, federal mediator Sergio Delgado was assigned to work with the two sides and is credited with helpng the parties reach the tentative agreement during the first meeting. The School Board approved the contract with a vote on Feb. 11.

I hold out hope that both sides will enter with open minds and that a deal can be worked out.