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Coalition Bargaining: Strength in Solidarity Across Locals and Campuses

By Amy Todd, Department of Anthropology and Assistant Newsletter editor


At the annual MTA Higher Education meeting in April, MTA consultant and attorney Michelle Gallagher led a lively meeting on coalition bargaining which was attended by members of all the UMass Boston locals, our sister chapters at UMass Amherst, state and community college locals and MTA staff members.

Depending on the issue at hand, Gallagher explained, coalitions may be campus-based or broad-based.  We have had great success with campus-based coalition bargaining at UMass Boston around parking, for example.  In contrast, on other campuses, the absence of coalition bargaining allowed parking privileges to been extended to some, but not all locals, or to individuals within locals based on job category or rank.  Coalition bargaining discourages such side deals and promotes solidarity around key issues.

At a higher level, broad-based bargaining across campuses may be effective in negotiating issues in which a system-wide solution may be envisioned.  These include tuition benefits for employees and dependents, anti-bullying language, health and welfare, and workplace safety.

Two challenges to coalition bargaining were identified in the course of the discussion.  One is a logistical challenge that has to do with the bargaining cycle.  While most local bargaining is synchronized, the community colleges bargain on a different cycle, making it difficult to coordinate our efforts.  

The other challenge is promoting campus-based and broad-based solidarity. To provoke discussion about how far we were willing to go, MSP staff member Ferd Wulkan asked us to consider the following hypothetical proposition: No local will sign a contract if a coalition member is being asked to make concessions that undermine their bargaining position and locals will take action to support other coalition members facing such pressure.  The consensus was that that such a commitment would need to be supported by members of locals and that getting such support will require significant organizing and education. 

While recognizing these challenges, participants were optimistic about the value of coalition bargaining and left the meeting ready to get to work on building coalitions.