Recently, a representative of an ICSOM orchestra asked me about “off the record” meetings. My definition of such meetings is that they are collective bargaining sessions which are attended by only one or two members of each team, and they are designed to create an atmosphere in which the parties can freely express their positions and exchange ideas for the ultimate resolution of the outstanding issues, without being bound to any one of those positions or ideas. Each of the attendees may then be free to offer reasons for their position(s) which they ask to remain confidential, or to propose an idea which they must later withdraw, without fear of committing an unfair labor practice, or being accused of a renege.
I then thought that my response to the inquiry might be informative and helpful to others involved in the process. Herewith is my response:
Off-the-record meetings are often the best way to move the negotiations forward more expeditiously, or, sometimes, unfortunately, to discover that the parties are so far apart that a settlement is probably not going to happen without a struggle. Either of these results of the meeting(s) is valuable to both sides in terms of adjusting or creating a strategy for the balance of negotiations.
However, any such meetings require these rules:
- They are not secret meetings. Everyone on each negotiating team must be informed that they have been suggested. Everyone on each negotiating team must participate in the decision to have them occur and help decide who will be the representative(s) of their side. Neither side can dictate to the other who they want to be the representative(s). Everyone should also be informed as to when they will occur.
- All attendees must be free to express any opinions, tentative proposals, rejections, or tentative acceptance(s) of proposals such that, should any of those tentative positions not pan out for any reason, they would not be accused of reneging. That is, whatever tentative conclusions, if any, are reached, must be subject to the acceptance of each negotiating team.
- While the details of some of the discussions may be confidential, the tentative conclusions, i.e., the positions taken by each side on each issue, should be reported to the full committee, and the full committee should retain the right to accept, reject or offer counters to any of those positions.
- If the meetings prove useful, they can recur, but ultimately the parties should resume full, on-the-record meetings— if only to confirm what has been tentatively agreed. This will hopefully lead to the drafting and signing of a memorandum of agreement (subject, of course, to ratification by the union and the bargaining unit).