LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Why contract talks can't end on time

To the Editor:

I spent nearly 35 years in labor relations.

Regarding deadlines: The tradition of labor negotiations in Japan is to end on time after a set number of negotiating meetings.

However, that is not the tradition in the United States. There are a number of reasons for that, but the two most important are:

1. Neither side wants to give up a significant proposal it really wants or accept a proposal it really doesn't want, especially in a critical year like 2007.

Bargaining is normally filled with dozens of such proposals, and they aren't resolved until the eleventh hour because neither side can justify giving them up until it absolutely has to.

2. Management and labor bargainers must demonstrate to their respective bosses that they did everything possible to secure the best terms.

How can they demonstrate that if they end negotiations on or before the deadline?

Obviously, they can't, and company bean counters and union activists will do everything in their power to undermine a proposed settlement.

While it would be great if negotiations could take place from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday and always end on time, in the real world, it ain't gonna happen.

Frankly, the parties could have started negotiations on May 23, Feb. 23 or even Oct. 23, 2006, and with the critical negotiations that are taking place, we'd be in the same place we are today - still talking after the official contract expiration.

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