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One of the hot topics here and elsewhere is the impending negotiation around the so-called "fiscal cliff" (it's really more of a gentle slope) and how Dems might - and/or ought to - approach that process.
Since helping to lead the fight to unionize my hospital a dozen years ago, I've been involved in a number of long and difficult contract negotiations.  I've learned a lot in the process, and from the experts who lead our bargaining teams.
I want to share with you some thoughts about how a union - a real union that is - approaches contract negotiations.  They aren't the same thing as political negotiations, but there are a lot of similarities.  The biggest similarity is that what matters is not how good a negotiator you are - it's how much force you have behind you.  How close the administration and congressional Dems come to following this model is a pretty good clue to how good a settlement we are likely to come up with.  I will include a few comments on the history of the health care negotiations - as a lesson in how not to do it.

So here is the recipe that has allowed my union - the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United to negotiate excellent contracts even in difficult times and build a strong and fast growing union:
To translate this into political negotiations, you might substitute constituents for members.
1. Engage your members early in the process: Long before going to the bargaining table we ask members for suggestions of what they want in the contract.  We survey them on their priorities.  We sign them up to be leaders on their units.  We make them feel engaged and empowered in the process.

2. Talk up "the ideal": On every issue, we identify the solution the members like best.  We then tell them they deserve that.  We look for instances where nurses other places have won that.  Tell them there is no reason they shouldn't have that.  Tell them that management can easily give them that and that if they don't it's because they are greedy heartless bastards.

3. Report frequently on the bargaining process: What happens at the table is the least important part of the process.  It's what happens in the facility - the engagement of our members (constituents) that tells the tale.  So you have to keep them informed.  You don't negotiate in a spotlight, but you do keep people fully informed.  "We proposed this, and management responded with this...".  We keep that accurate - if you lie about the negotiations, it poisons the process and loses trust. But we don't pull punches either.  If management are being assholes, we let the members know that -without saying it in so many words ;-)

4. Find ways for people to show their support: We start right off early with getting members to wear buttons of support for the bargaining team.  We ask them to send letters to management on a certain day about a certain issue.  We escalate that process.  First a button, then a letter, then circulating petitions among the public, then an informational picket.  But keep people engaged!

5. When management moves in their position, claim the victory:  Let members know that their activism and engagement made the difference.  It gives them positive reinforcement and a reason to stay engaged.

6. Don't be too anxious to finish: Timing matters, and it takes experience to know when to push forward and when to hold back.  But a good solution is more important than a fast one.

7. Know when to declare victory: Here's the hard part.  You've talked up the ideal.  You've engaged people in the fight for the ideal.  Even members of your bargaining team have become invested in the ideal.  But you've moved management a lot, you've gotten a good deal - now you move just enough on your side to get the final deal done.  That usually means that you aren't getting the ideal, but you know you've gotten the best you possibly can.  And you often have a challenge to get your members to believe that the deal you got really was the best possible.  But if you've kept them involved and built a level of trust with them, that's usually a manageable issue.

Now let's look at a few points from the health care fight.
Did our side engage their constituents?  No.  In fact, they suppressed their strongest constituents.  The people who had been fighting - some of us for decades - for single payer were excluded in every possible way.  In fact, a whole organization - HCAN - was formed at the request of the administration largely for the purpose of marginalizing single payer supporters.  If the administration had encouraged single-payer folks, that would have been the publicly identified "far left position".  As such, it would not have happened, but it would have created the negotiating space to make the so-called public option the "centrist compromise"  By shutting down single-payer folks, the administration guaranteed that the public option would be identified as the "far left position"  And as we all know, in America, anyone who advocates the "far left position" is "unserious" and must be marginalized.  Shutting down talk of single payer helped to make the public option impossible.  Talking up the ideal does not mean you win the ideal.  But it does let you win a better compromise.  In the health care debate, right from the start, the argument was for a better compromise.  But -seeming paradox - you don't win a better compromise by arguing for it.  You win a better compromise by arguing for the ideal.
And you don't engage the power of your supporters by negotiating in the dark.  You engage that power by keeping them informed.  Remember the long periods of secret or semi-secret talks, designed to get a vote from a Lieberman or a Snowe?  In the union world, we'd be keeping people informed about those talks and asking them to apply pressure to the target individual.  

What would our style of fight look like in the upcoming discussions?  We do hear a few hopeful signs.  The president is making firm statements about his bargaining positions - not all I want to hear, but at least some.  We are hearing plans for rallies and public events - that's good.  They need to be big, and inclusive.  If they are going to work and have the desired effect, they should include those voices who are determined to win the ideal - big tax increases on the rich, no cuts in the safety net.  A financial transaction tax to make Wall Street pay us back for bailing them out.  Empowering and encouraging voices like ours makes more room for a better compromise in the end.  So that will be another important clue to watch: Does the administration encourage and embrace voices like CNA, NNU, Occupy and others on the left, or does it try to shut us down and marginalize us?  If they embrace us, it means they want to win this fight.  If they push us to the side, the fix is in and they are already playing to lose.

Originally posted to Chico David RN on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 05:13 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This makes sense. (15+ / 0-)

    I could not understand the "negotiation" moves that Obama made on the ACA ... putting anything "off the table - why??? Argue for the unattainable ideal and then give it up for concessions from the other side, sure, don't surrender in advance!

  •  you assume (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hoplite9, caul, Aspe4, salmo, jm214

    These were mistakes, and Lieberman was the bad guy.  He was the rotating villain.  

    We are getting austerity because Obama has promised it already to his true base.  The only question will be whether he.takes the party down with him.  

    Our best hope is the teabaggers.  

    ‎"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them." --Frederick Douglass

    by Nada Lemming on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 05:42:01 PM PST

    •  Not really (9+ / 0-)

      I believe that Obama got the result he wanted in those negotiations - all the signs point that way.  No one in the administration is dumb - they know these things as well as any of us.  I'm not as cynical as you are - quite.  I don't believe Obama is badly intentioned, but I do believe he is a compromiser by nature and very invested in a centrist view of the world.  I to believe there is still room to put pressure on them and we need to know the signs of a bad deal coming, vs a serious negotiation.  I

      "Wouldn't you rather vote for what you want and not get it than vote for what you don't want - and get it?" Eugene Debs. "Le courage, c'est de chercher la verite et de la dire" Jean Jaures

      by Chico David RN on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 05:50:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Lieberman was more than rotating villain (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aspe4, jm214, Nada Lemming

      Lieberman was one of the "key Senators" who ran the entire chamber, on the basis of his accumulated political influence (read: his hold over other Senators). Only that fact would explain:

      •why his stance on Bill Clinton's penis was so important to other Senators
      •why he was selected as Al Gore's running mate
      •why he was able, in a mere 48 hours, to kill the Medicare buy-in single-handedly
      •why DADT repeal passed the Senate

      It remains to be seen who will be running the Senate in his absence.  But regardless of who it ends up being, I have little faith in the notion that the public can influence the "negotiations" over any piece of legislation before the Senate. Most Senators are already bought and paid for, and are arrogantly immune to public pressure.

      Shirley Chisholm was right. Our Republic is in deep trouble.

      by Big River Bandido on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 05:35:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The Public's Effect on Negotiations Will be Nil (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Big River Bandido, jm214

        You're right, regarding the effect the public has on negotiations. The "American public" is so huge that it's an abstract concept. Of course, you can look in the mirror or look onto a busy street and see the American public, but they're so abstract that it makes it easier for the Obama Administration to ignore popular sentiment. The only power we had to influence the negotiations was this past Nov. 7 so it's too late now.  Contrast that with the union negotiations the diarist described where the members are a lot closer to their leadership than we are.

        "The problem with posting quotes off the Internet is you never know if they're genuine."--Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Gettysburg, February 30, 1908

        by Aspe4 on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:00:25 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agreed (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Aspe4, jm214

          Although I think it's the leadership that is straying from the public, rather than the other way around.  ;)  But that's a mere quibble.  

          Shirley Chisholm was right. Our Republic is in deep trouble.

          by Big River Bandido on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:43:49 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  OWS disproves this (4+ / 0-)

          No one thought that Occupy Wall Street would have any impact. But it changed the narrative from "we need more austerity" to "we need to stop inequality". Suddenly, people were realizing that they were part of the 99% and needed to fight back against the 1%.

          This can happen again. It doesn't happen by sitting around being cynical. It happens by all of us working as hard as we did getting Obama elected. We need to put as much effort into  pressuring the administration and Congress and forcing the media to expand their narrative beyond what the plutocrats want us to talk about.

          This is the narrative we need to have: "Let the tax rates return to their level before Bush". "It's a fiscal bluff, not a cliff". "Jobs first, fix the deficit later". "Cut the bloated military budget, not social services".

          •  What Pressure? (0+ / 0-)

            What's the consequence to Obama if he ignores popular public sentiment? Congresspeople still have elections to win but there's no pressure on Obama to do so.

            "The problem with posting quotes off the Internet is you never know if they're genuine."--Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Gettysburg, February 30, 1908

            by Aspe4 on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 08:22:16 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  President Obama doesn't live in a vacuum (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              If Obama is getting direct pressure from people writing to him (showing that American people really do want progressive policies) and is also pressured by Democrats in Congress (who do have to get elected again), by large Democratic funders (who want the Democratic Party to do well in the future), and by the news media, then he is more likely to shift left. So we need to pressure all of them to move to the left and to put pressure on Obama to move left. Elections are just one part of the political process.

              If votes were all that had motivated Obama, he would have renegotiated trade deals as he promised in Ohio in 2008. Then Democrats would have been motivated to vote in 2010 and would have kept the Ohio statehouse in 2010. And Obama would have had no problem winning this year. Instead, he was pressured to pass even more "free" trade deals. Fortunately, he also cut a pretty good rescue package for the auto industry and that was enough to keep most working people in Ohio on board.

  •  I disagree about HCAN (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cai, FG, DBunn

    I have a friend who worked for them who is pretty far left, moreso than I am. I can't imagine he would have worked for HCAN if it was designed primarily to suppress progressive grassroots activists, since that's what he is.

    Also, for what it's worth, AFL-CIO polling in 1993 actually found that a majority of union members opposed single payer because they felt it threatened the benefits they already had. I am a proponent of single payer, but I have to admit, when I worked for a union and had really good insurance, I probably wouldn't have wanted to trade.

    I do, however, agree with you about the need to engage people in the debate and get the grassroots activists involved. I think this was Obama's vision when he first became president. Sadly, the tea partyers did a better job than we did of making their voices heard.

    •  Lots of good people worked for HCAN.. (15+ / 0-)

      Pretty much all sincerely believing that they were doing good work.  But being on the exec board of my union, I'm in a position to get a fair amount of non-public info and what that tells us is that the Administration went to SEIU - which is pretty much joined at the hip with them, and was the main driver behind HCAN - and said, in essence "We think a clamor for single payer will make our negotiations more difficult, and all the existing left advocacy organizations are pro-single-payer.  So we need you to make sure that an organization that is not pro-single-payer is big and visible and drowns out the single-payer folks."  We saw it at 2009 Netroots Nation, where a  health care panel sponsored by HCAN specifically excluded single-payer voices and people who spoke for single payer from the audience were mocked and made fun of - I was one of them.  Other organizations with good reputations on the left were also enlisted - most notably MoveOn.  I remember when they did a survey of their members on what they wanted in healthcare reform and left off single-payer as an option - there was no way to give that response.  That created quite a backlash among members, but that sort of stuff gets forgotten.

      "Wouldn't you rather vote for what you want and not get it than vote for what you don't want - and get it?" Eugene Debs. "Le courage, c'est de chercher la verite et de la dire" Jean Jaures

      by Chico David RN on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 06:21:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Th Tea Party got heard because it was (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aspe4, RandomNonviolence, Odysseus

      the face of a powerful moneyed interest group. The Tea Party was the working class face of extremist right wing wealthy people. The Tea Party was heard because Republicans were inclined to hear it.

      It may come down to higher taxes on the wealthy in exchange for cuts to Social Security and Medicare and other social safety net programs. The Very Serious People have decided now that the election is over it is time to concentrate on the most important issues. Which is of course the issues that the VSP's have decided. And their council is that now the election is over ignore the voters and make the Grand Bargain.

      If these benefits get cut we need to hit the streets. Hard. Preserving Social Security is more important than the Bush tax issue. Let the Bush tax cuts expire and keep Social Security where it is. I mean after all 47% of us do not pay taxes right? So what do we care if taxes go up? /snark

    •  Your Friend Is Not Immune to Being Manipulated (0+ / 0-)

      is he? That's the M.O. of many D.C. politicians. Activists feel so strongly about their cause that they can't see that they're being played because they have so much hope that someone is finally going to fight for their cause.

      "The problem with posting quotes off the Internet is you never know if they're genuine."--Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Gettysburg, February 30, 1908

      by Aspe4 on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:04:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Out of the frying pan (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10, cai, hoplite9, caul, Aspe4, salmo

    the frying pan the election offered us, and into the real vat of oil. Lieberman and every other New Democrat aka The Third Way have complete control of both our party and our government. All that 'we the people' get is kabuki staged as us against them. Where exactly does the common good or the general welfare come into this twisty narrative both sides present as real?

    The fiscal cliffs of mass deception are just like the weapons of mass deception they are made up and used to promote the NWO. The one that says 'terrist's are gonna kill yer family' and that unless we all accept austerity, the inevitable cliffs of fiscal Apocalypse Now will destroy what?

    The banksters with their NWO which imposes austerity globally, so that these Visigoths stay too big to fail?  WTf is this about? It's just absurd and please can't these assholes wait till the dust clears before starting up with the kabuki and grand bargains, that screw us all.

    Okay we won now let's redefine what winning means. People of good spirit voted as a majority against the bat shit crazy Republicans so why in the fuck are we bargaining with them? Their nuts right? Of course they are, we all here agree. Then why in the hell is this grand bargain even on the table?

    Why was Betray us even in charge of the spooks. Same thing as domestic policy, where going to get Bowles and Simpson regardless of the outcome, There seems to be a by-partisan consensus in our elected representatives, the government, that proclaims the way forward is endless war and disaster capitalism. Meanwhile  we the people and the planet get burned. For what?          

    •  You're somewhat more cynical than I (8+ / 0-)

      But I am plenty cynical.  Ever see the little film "Mouseland" with narration by Tommy Douglas?  But I don't take it as a reason to give up and say to hell with them - take it as a reason to organize and fight to make them live up to their promises.

      "Wouldn't you rather vote for what you want and not get it than vote for what you don't want - and get it?" Eugene Debs. "Le courage, c'est de chercher la verite et de la dire" Jean Jaures

      by Chico David RN on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 06:54:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think (0+ / 0-)

        I'm cynical just pragmatic. My loyalty and support is not really grounded in persona the candidate, pols or winning just to stop the worst. Without actual direction, policy or agenda change. Not when both parties are offering a variation on the same bogus reality.  I'm a Democrat albeit an old school one.

        I have seen Mouseland. I just want the Democrat's to start fighting and representing the values and principles of democracy and the common good not to mention our civil and human rights. I guess I care more about what we win then just beating the maniac's that we supposedly oppose.  

        Why does this current lot of Democrat's in power and running the party  make bargains with them and agree on the same twisted world view? A new world order that seems to me to be the same one I have fought against my whole life. I know what 'they' are but what do the Democrat's offer to offset their twisted reality?  

  •  History repeats? (8+ / 0-)

    Today's closed door session with the Prez and no joint statement affirming progressive principles afterwards smell strongly of the meeting where single payer was taken off the table before the game even began.  When I see the Prez come forward with a program and begin to sell it to us, the ones who "brung" him to the dance, then I'll have some faith.  I've paid my Social Security premiums for 42 years so far.  You're damned right I'm entitled to collect the benefits.  I paid Medicare premiums since the program came in to existence and continue to pay $99 a month plus all the co-pay and deductible BS and since I continue to work although I'm retired I still pay the payroll tax (premiums).  So Hell Yes I'm entitled to those benefits as well.  

    There is nothing negative about the words entitle or entitled.  When I was in an auto accident nobody claimed that I wasn't not entitled to coverage.  If I croaked with a life insurance policy in effect nobody would claim my estate isn't entitled to the covered amount.  When I die with a paid up burial policy they're going to throw me in the crematorium and the funeral home will be entitled to be paid.  Where does the government get of thinking it's entitled to welsh on the deal?  

    Yes I understand the legal distinction but Social Security and Medicare are insurance in reality and my "full faith" in the U.S as a nation rides on whether the government will honor the bonds (credit) that the Social Security Trust Fund holds to secure my entitled claim.  

    A bad idea isn't responsible for those who believe it. ---Stephen Cannell

    by YellerDog on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 10:01:16 PM PST

  •  of course the nurses aren't going to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    switch parties and vote for management instead of the union. That's one difference with the political process. A party or governing coalition tries to stay in the majority, so they will never reach out only to the left. Three question is where to find the right balance between appealing to the left and appealing to the center.

    "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

    by AaronInSanDiego on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 10:29:33 PM PST

    •  That 'of course' is a loss of power. You have to (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      caul, RandomNonviolence

      be willing to back up your demands.  You may not 'vote for management' (although, sadly, a minority of union members do every time) but you might not pay for conventions, do door to door or phonebanking work, etc.  Unions provide a hell of a lot of volunteer work to campaigns, and it will make a difference if they're constantly snubbed.

    •  Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AaronInSanDiego, salmo

      showed how to win elections by sticking to your principles. Ohioans appreciate that he is honest and does what he says, even if they are not sure about the progressive policies he fights for. But he also tries to find solutions that actually take into account a wide range of interests and perspectives. So everyone (except the greedy super-rich and fraudsters) can see that he is standing up for their best interest. As a result he gets widespread support even among Republicans. That is why he could win big in Ohio despite $30 million in attack ads trashing him.

      There is majority support for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in this country. If President Obama would just stand clearly in support of those programs, he would garner a majority of support. He doesn't have to lean to the right at all. There was not majority support form single-payer health, but there was majority support for a public option. Obama did not have to lose that. He should have rallied the American public against the Republicans and against Joe Lieberman. But he didn't. Let's do it right this time.

  •  This is what I'm looking for from Obama: (6+ / 0-)

    A coordinated effort to sway public opinion for high income tax increases and no cuts in benefits that's every bit as competent and persistent as his campaigns to run for office.

    Straight-up answers about his positions.  "Tweaking" doesn't qualify, especially in the context of the "tweaking" that Reagan and Tip O'Neill did (i.e. raise the retirement age).

    Repudiation of the deceptive use of our increasing life-span.  Discussion of manual labor and differences in health.  A comparison to the benefits that citizens of other comparable nations receive.  In other words, directly contradict the opposing arguments before they become conventional wisdom.

    PBO will be having a press conference soon.  We'll know soon enough where he stands.

  •  Wow (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    caul, RandomNonviolence

    Just wow, wow, wow! How-to, in a nutshell. I am going to archive this in my folder of STUFF TO REMEMBER. Next time I have to negotiate a tricky outcome, this is going to be my first stop for guidance. Now, if only we could make sure POTUS would see and adopt this...

  •  This is a great diary..... (4+ / 0-)

    A real step-by-step intro to negotiating for what you want at work and in politics.  

    What I hope to see out of this administration is more engagement using OFA as a point of contact with progressive voices, to mobilize those of us who voted for the president and solicit our views.

    At least, that's how I thought it might be used after the first election -- as an authentic tool for feedback and mobilization.  Not sure it was ever used as such.  

    "There's something fundamentally wrong with a a system where a handful of people have more than they'd ever need and the mass of the people have less than they always need." -- Rev. Joseph Lowery

    by caul on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 04:56:59 AM PST

  •  Difference? Union membership gets to ratify (0+ / 0-)

    anything negotiated by their representatives.

    We, the people, do not.  And we have already elected the next round of reps and have only an election 2 years off to hold over them if they go against our will.

    So, basically most of the things you list about your union negotiations have no real equivalence.

    •  I would disagree in two ways (0+ / 0-)

      One, unions are actually, for better and worse, pretty good at manipulating their members, if they have kept the members' trust in general.  So it's pretty rare for members to vote to reject a contract if the union leadership really wants them to accept it.  If the leadership is ambibuous about it and doesn't push it too hard, or if the leadership is otherwise compromised and has lost the trust of the members, then contracts get rejected.
      The other thing is that this question is irrelevent to most of the points I make, because the core of what I am saying is about how you build power in a negotiation by getting your members/constituency behind you.  Whether that constituency is happy with the results at the end of the process is pretty much unrelated to how you use that constituency to build power during the process.

      "Wouldn't you rather vote for what you want and not get it than vote for what you don't want - and get it?" Eugene Debs. "Le courage, c'est de chercher la verite et de la dire" Jean Jaures

      by Chico David RN on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 10:54:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Obama has already told us what the Ideal is gonna (0+ / 0-)

    be. Sure looks like the Grand Bargain, that is nothing of the sort, as far as the most of us are concerned.

    And yes, for you True Believers, I did vote for the Current Occupant, as the least worst alternative. Just like Johnson was, way back when I was on the way to Vietnam... He at least pushed for some pretty progressive stuff, knew the power of the bully pulpit, and how to negotiate against the other guy, and not against himself and his constituency, except for that part about sucking us deeper into that other stupid war-based-on-a-neogeopolitical-fraud.

    "Is that all there is?" Peggy Lee.

    by jm214 on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 04:14:53 PM PST

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