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Bargaining Theory Meets Interest-Based Negotiations: A Case Study



This is a case study of the 2005 national contract negotiations between Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. Given the scale and complexity of these negotiations, their successful completion provides an exemplar for collective bargaining in this country. In 1997 Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions formed a labor management partnership, and negotiations were structured around the principles of interest-based negotiation (IBN). Drawing on direct observation of all parts of the bargaining process, interviews with individuals from Kaiser and the Coalition of Unions, and surveys we conducted after bargaining was completed, we conclude that the parties employed a mix of interest-based and traditional negotiation processes across an array of integrative and distributive issues. We find that IBN techniques were used extensively and successfully to reach mutually satisfying agreements when the parties shared interests. When interests were in greater conflict, the parties resorted to more traditional, positional tactics to reach resolution. Strong intraorganizational conflicts limited the use of IBN and favored the use of more traditional positional bargaining. While a high level of trust enabled and supported the use of IBN, tensions that developed limited the use of IBN and required surfacing and release before either IBN or more traditional positional processes could proceed effectively. The use of IBN tools helped the parties apply the principles underlying the partnership in which these negotiations were embedded. We conclude that IBN served as a way of applying or operationalizing integrative bargaining and affected the process dynamics in ways the Walton and McKersie theory predicted. As such we see IBN as techniques that neither displace nor render obsolete other aspects of bargaining theory or practice but that show considerable promise for helping collective bargaining to address the complex issues and challenges found in contemporary employment relationships.