A Memorandum of Chain Jerking
So the contract proposal that some public sector unions recently voted to reject was apparently not a real offer. According to the NEA’s Bob Walsh, it wasn’t the result of “negotiations,” but of a “process by which a memorandum of settlement was reached.” (Note the passive voice.) Presumably, Bob would have been just fine with the governor’s having responded to broad approval of the contract by withdrawing its terms and declaring that it had just been, you know, a sort of poll of members’ disposition.
So the negotiation process now has another layer. Union leaders “discuss” a settlement with the governor and vote to send it to their members as if it were an official contract to be ratified. Depending how that goes, they then enter into official “negotiations” with the governor to push for more. How many times contracts can be “discussed” without being “negotiated” is an open question.
From this perspective, the following bit of Walsh’s explanation of why “union officials agreed to discussion, as opposed to negotiations,” is of especial interest, strategically:
With contracts already in place through June 30, 2008, formal negotiations could have left the door open to a process where the state tried to reopen other issues in the existing agreement. This was not an idle concern, as informal discussions the prior year led a member of the administration to try (ultimately unsuccessfully) exactly that tactic regarding health care plan design.
In other words, “discussions” apparently allow the unions the flexibility to come up with contracts that the members can accept, while not opening up the previous contract for changes. This might be useful if, say, labor leaders wish to stall through the fiscal year without having to face the possibility of changes that might create immediate assistance to the fiscally ailing state. Sorry, Bob: the unions have had it every which way for far too long.
Me, I say that the unions blinked, and the governor should consider the thousands of Rhode Islanders who would be beyond relieved to see a flood of ads in the pitifully thin Sunday jobs section of the paper.