Labor memo: ‘Best Practices’ paved way for agreement

The primary reason a union agreement was even possible this early was the “Best Practices” initiative, union members said over the weekend.

But what exactly is Best Practices? And how does it work?

Established by University officials after union leadership pushed for the program in the 2002 contract, Best Practices is a labor management program designed to increase communication between the University and its workers. (When asked to define Best Practices, Yale unions spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’05 said it is difficult to describe concisely.)

It can be described as a program designed to improve the relationship between the University and its labor unions, Locals 34 and 35. For instance, spurred by the current economic times and the reality of University layoffs, union officials requested stronger job security language during recent Best Practices meetings.

But before Best Practices was created, union members said, both sides would come to negotiations with their own demands without prior communication. They would then work painstakingly to reach a compromise. In 2002, arriving at a contract took 19 months, including over a month of striking.

It can also be described as a set of closed-door discussions between the University administrators and union officials to talk about their demands and concerns before contract negotiations.

Maureen Malone Jones, a Local 34 executive board member and a Best Practices steering committee board member, said a major strategy used in the Best Practices program is “interest-based problem solving.”

“We try to understand their interests,” she said. “And they try to understand ours.”

The interest-based problem solving model was based on models at various corporations across the nation, Cobb said. He added that John Pepper ’60, a former vice president for finance and administration and a Yale figure instrumental in creating the Best Practices system, looked to the “Interest-Based Negotiations” model at health care organization Kaiser Permanente.

According to Best Practices policy, the IBPS model requires members to define the labor problem, identify the interests involved, develop available options and agree on a solution.

And agree they did. Last week, union officials told their constituent members that an agreement had been struck with the University over a new contract. The vote to approve the contract is April 14.

Concessions were made on both sides, Jones said. Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King, a key administrative representative in Best Practices, said in an e-mail that the discussions about the contracts have been going on for many months.

Isaac Arnsdorf contributed reporting.

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