This is a seven-party exercise, with six negotiators and one facilitator. Representatives from a large school district and its affiliated teachers’ union must negotiate for three rounds. The Mayor serves as a facilitator and convening presence in all three rounds and does not vote on any deals. The simulation takes place over three years.
In Round 1, parties are tasked with negotiating a full collective bargaining agreement. Historically, the school district and union have worked collaboratively on these contract renegotiations. However, teachers are frustrated with their comparatively low salaries and the previous superintendent’s anti-union sentiments.
This negotiation includes three negotiators from the district and three negotiators from the teachers’ union. The six negotiating parties and the Mayor are presented with five key issues (salary, observation policy, layoffs policy, bonus pay, and incentive pay), and it is left to their discretion to add additional issues or ignore key items. Parties are provided with enough information to infer what would be reasonable spending; however, the simulation is explicitly designed so that negotiators are not preoccupied with a spreadsheet. Instead, the simulation pushes negotiators to consider the interests underlying their financial positions and make reasonable decisions based on the information provided to them. If no agreement is reached in Round 1, teacher pay is frozen, and the current contract continues.
In Round 2, a financial crisis has hit the US, destroying state and local budgets and forcing the school district to issue reduction-in-force notices (RIFs) to teachers. Negotiators face uncertainty over the number of layoffs needed to meet a state-level budget shortfall and decrease in education spending, as well as over whether the governor will intervene and delay a strike. The school district and union may negotiate the burden of layoffs between teachers and the central administration, though the school district has no legal obligation to lay off administrators in response to a budget shortfall. If negotiators do not reach agreement in Round 2, the governor could intervene and delay a strike, diminishing the union’s momentum.
Round 3, nearly three years later, requires the same participants to renegotiate the full collective bargaining agreement, noting Round 1’s five key agenda items. Given the financial crisis, there is a narrower zone of possible agreement on budget items, and the union is less willing to compromise after teachers bore the burden of the budget shortfall in Round 2. If negotiators do not reach agreement in Round 3, the union will likely decide to strike.
In this exercise, based on public sector labor negotiations in twenty-first century America, sides are not monolithic and cross-cutting coalitions are possible. It is set against a real-world backdrop of high-profile labor disputes, the potential damage of an economic downturn on city labor markets, and intensifying labor activism in the form of #RedforEd—the 2018 grassroots movement of educators culminating in a two-week walkout by thousands of teachers in West Virginia, concessions from the state, and copycat movements.
Round-to-round, individuals are updated with new information that shifts their preferences or adds context. Each round builds off the tone set in previous discussions, complicating an otherwise-straightforward contract negotiation.
- Manage internal and external negotiations.
- Manage long-term relationships in iterative decision-making.
- Manage uncertainty and increasing complexity.
- Reach agreement with opposing parties despite historical issues of mistrust or absence of trust.
- Facilitate negotiation by assisting parties in effective communication and listening, creating a helpful process, generating options, clarifying decisions, and drafting agreements.