Interest-Based Negotiations: Proposals don’t always reflect concerns of the members who put them forward

GSU staff representatives Dale Markling and Steve Torgerson attended the Interest-Based Negotiations Workshop presented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on April 18-20. 



Dale Markling and I recently attended an Interest-Based Negotiations Workshop presented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Simply put, interest-based negotiations aim to get to the root issue of a problem and then figure out a solution that is beneficial to both parties.

“We need a 5% pay increase in each year of the agreement.” “I think we need double-time overtime for all overtime hours worked.” We hear ideas and proposals like these each time a GSU bargaining unit prepares to enter into negotiations. These are legitimate proposals union members want to be included in their collective agreement, but sometimes proposals don’t actually reflect the concerns of the members putting them forward. For example, perhaps the issue is that members are not feeling valued and respected in the workplace, and so they seek more money to ‘make it right’, or they are tired of working overtime on a weekly basis and want more overtime pay in compensation. In these examples, the underlying issue is respect in the workplace or for work-family balance. 

Traditional (adversarial) collective bargaining is more proposal-based negotiation with both sides coming in with a list of demands and presenting them.  In theory, interest-based negotiation is a more collaborative process with union and company representatives working through the issues to find solutions. These are two very different and styles of negotiating, and while interest-based negotiations don’t work in all circumstances, there is much to learn from this approach. 

The workshop explored how unconscious decisions can be detrimental to effective communication. For example, how easy it is to forget what your goals are and look to punish the other side when you feel you have been slighted or disrespected. The workshop also showed how much can be achieved if there is trust and mutual respect between the employees and the employer.

I took away a number of ideas that I will attempt to put into practice. In addition, new ideas were collected for the education and information of GSU members.


There are many opportunities for union education. Contact your GSU staff rep to learn more about what we have to offer.