We Republicans sure know how to set a table before a big event, don’t we? I had an interesting experience I think most will find the same.
In late fall of 1981, I became general manager of the 300-employee transportation department of Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation in Cleveland, Ohio. The department had unionized much earlier before my arrival after a nasty strike.
In early summer of 1982, I had my first-ever union contract negations. The first meeting was to set the agenda. The union was 30 minutes late.
The members had stopped off to buy some Cleveland Best Poppin’ pies and drinks. I was very proud of them for being so thoughtful. Then I looked at the faces of my negotiating team and was surprised to see them surprised.
The second and third meetings flew by, and I had my first caucus during the second. As we were leaving the caucus, my boss (director of business affairs) looked at me and kindly reminded me of whose side I was and recommended that I sit on their side of the table. I made the huge move of about three feet.
Whenever the union had a concern about a section, they would ask for my recommendation. Sometimes it was favorable and sometimes not. They accepted every one without any significant change.
To the schools’ credit they did, also. It was apparent the new contract would be finalized at the next meeting.
The union members were 45 minutes late, and my boss asked me if I knew why, when in they came with home-cooked barbecued chicken, ribs, greens, my favorite cheesecake made by the union vice president and drinks. I’ll never forget the looks and one of those half-smiles that come when you’re surprised.
We enjoyed one of the best meals one could have and proceeded to finish a contract that both sides could live with.
Can’t get anything done in this type of environment? We did it. At the last caucus, a senior partner at one of Cleveland’s largest labor law firms turned to me and said it was one of the most interesting and unique negotiations he had, and probably never would again, experienced.
James Del Grosso