Walking the fine line when closing the deal


POSTED: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Union folks love to talk about “;who can close the deal.”;

There is a certain skill to realistically seeing the deal. How much more you can win in negotiations is measured against how much you lose if you keep stalling, the deal goes sour and your opponent walks.

There was a common perception that the Hawaii State Teachers Association needlessly prolonged a 20-day statewide teachers walkout. Whether it was true or not, a lot of the insiders said the HSTA “;didn't know how to close a deal.”;

The state and the four public worker unions are now seven months into labor negotiations and there is little deal-closing on any parts of the process.

Gov. Linda Lingle claims to be flexible, pointing out that it was the state that first offered the unions a sliding scale series of pay cuts with lower-paid workers taking a smaller percentage pay cut than more well-paid senior state workers.

Lingle also adds that it was the unions that first proposed furloughs instead of pay cuts, which is what Lingle is now trying to advance.

The unions previously were the ones who said Lingle was not bargaining in good faith, but then the unions were the ones wanting informal talks instead of Lingle's insistence on on-the-record proposals.

On both sides there has been much running of the mouth and little running to the bargaining table.

One former associate of Gov. Ben Cayetano recalls that while Cayetano was also more interested in the art of war compared to the art of negotiations, even he saw that sometimes a little give and take wins the whole pot.

“;Ben, why are we going to keep on hitting them, you know someday we are going to have to compromise anyway,”; the adviser told Cayetano. Hawaii's former governor found compromise came only after that 20-day teachers' strike.

While Lingle has negotiated previous labor contracts, it was during a rising tide. The state's economy was low but expected to get better and contracts could be fashioned to take that into account.

The contract with the university faculty comes to mind. That was a $168 million deal that started with a retroactive 1 percent raise that climbed to an 11 percent raise on July 1, 2008.

Today, of course, it is all about pay cuts, not raises, but it is also all about who is smart enough to close the deal and strong enough to ensure that the deal stays closed.


Richard Borreca writes on politics every Wednesday. Reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).