Real Life Negotiating Lessons: Verizon vs. The CWA & IBEW

Verizon had a real life negotiation with the CWA and IBEW
Verizon had a real life negotiation with the CWA and IBEW

In case you haven’t been watching the news lately, the telecommunications giant Verizon has been locked in labor negotiations with the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Both sides of this negotiation are run by professional negotiators who have done this countless times before. What this means for us is that it offers a great chance to learn from the masters.

What I’d like to draw your attention to today is the use of deadlines as a negotiating technique. We’ve talked about deadlines here before; however, it’s always even more instructive to see it at work in the real world.

The two sides had been going at it for several weeks when on 8/8/08 (Friday, and somewhat interestingly the day that the summer Olympics in China started) the CWA and IBEW announced that if an agreement was not reached by Monday, 8/11/08,…strike action then becomes possible….

Verizon’s Chief Communications Officer, Peter Thonis, then was quoted as saying that the company was …very surprised, given the situation. So what was going on here?

An interesting clue can be found in a comments that the CWA/IBEW made to the press in which they stated that progress had been “slow”. What we are seeing here is a classic negotiating end game move – the unions are signaling to Verizon that they want to wrap up negotiations. By all accounts, progress on the key issues had been made and things were drawing to a close anyway. By issuing this ultimatum, the unions were sure to get the attention of Verizon’s senior management.

It’s a good guess that the senior management on both sides were probably not involved in the long hours of nitty gritty negotiations that were taking place between the two sides. This this the type of task that is best left to lawyers and other professional negotiators. However, by sending this signal, the unions clearly communicated that it was time for senior management on both sides to return to the table.

Without actually being at the table it’s hard to say exactly where things stood. However, a good guess would be that the nitty gritty workers had gotten as far as they could. What could be resolved had been and what was still unresolved could not be resolved at their level. By calling the senior management back to the table, the hope was that the last few items could be resolved and the negotiations could be wrapped up.

What should you take away from all of this? Simply that a deadline has another role in negotiations – as a communications tool. Note that neither side appeared to be very angry with the other side, instead they were using the deadline as a way to mark the end of one phase of the negotiations and the start of the end game.

Now that you have another way to use a tool that’s already in your negotiating toolbox, how will you use it? Have you ever been given a deadline by the other side that was not what it appeared to be on first glance? Have you ever used a deadline to send a message to the other side? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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