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  • Most often called Interest Based Bargaining (IBB), Interest Based Negotiations (IBN), Mutual Gains Bargaining or Win-Win Bargaining, but also called round table bargaining, problem solving negotiations, integrative negotiations, principled negotiations, collaborative bargaining, and consensus bargaining.
  • Developed at Harvard University as part of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Based on a book entitled Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without really Giving In”, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, first published in 1981.
  • Process was initially developed for use in areas other than labour relations e.g., native land claim negotiations and diplomatic negotiations between countries.
  • Many CUPE locals have been approached by employers to participate in IBB. Some try it, but most find that it does not meet their needs.
  • Hundreds of CUPE collective agreements are reached each year using ‘traditional’ bargaining techniques. Thousands of collective agreements are reached each year in Canada using ‘traditional’ bargaining techniques. Well over 95% of those are reached without resorting to job or strike action.
  • The five characteristics of IBB are:
    1. bargaining over positions is avoided;
    2. people are separated from the problem;
    3. focus is placed on interests and not positions;
    4. options for mutual gain are invented;
    5. objective criteria are used to select the appropriate resolution to an issue.


  • IBB assumes that ‘interests’ are common interests – sometimes the interests of the workers are not the same as the interests of the employer.
  • Union members are encouraged to adopt the problems that the employer faces as their own problems. This is not always the case.
  • The suggestion to participate in IBB is invariably made by the employer. Why? The employer has, in the end, more to gain from the process.
  • IBB strips workers of the only real power they have – the ability to withhold their labour.
  • IBB depends upon each side having ‘decision-makers’ at the table. This is usually not a problem for unions. However, public sector employers often do not send negotiators with mandates to make decisions or reach agreements.
  • IBB works most effectively when the employer is not facing a ‘crisis’ i.e., when there is some room for cooperation. When the employer is in a crisis e.g., a funding crisis, the only real motivation for the employer is to use IBB as a method to seek concessions. Often these concessions are in the areas of overtime, sick leave, scheduling, flexibility of assignment, and staffing complement.
  • In some cases, CUPE locals have reached agreements using IBB, but in subsequent rounds of negotiations the process has broken down after concessions were put on the table.
  • The process allows for all solutions to ‘problems’ to be placed on the table in “blue sky” sessions. These solutions often include concessions, and are given legitimacy by virtue of the process.
  • Committee discipline can be undermined in a process where all members involved in the negotiations are encouraged to participate in “blue sky” sessions. Solutions to problems cannot be criticized (this is part of the technique). Employer representatives can put forward ideas such as contracting out, de-certification, etc. with impunity. So, members of either committee can offer a potential solution to a problem. Without strong committee discipline our members may offer solutions which are detrimental to the collective agreement and/or their sisters and brothers in the local.
  • Caucuses are prohibited during meetings. However, it is clear that caucusing does take place outside of the meeting dates and employer caucus discipline is usually strong (they have a ‘boss’ to report to and are less likely to break caucus discipline than members of a union with a democratic orientation.)
  • IBB can de-mobilize members. In cases where our members have been trained in IBB and where the expectation is that there will be no conflict, it can have a de-mobilizing effect if negotiations break off. It is a problem to mobilize the membership back into adversarial bargaining, and you have a significant problem in trying to explain to members what happened bargaining where there was supposed to be no conflict.
  • Inexperienced bargaining committees are more likely to succumb to the more dangerous aspects of IBB.
  • Consultants used to provide the training often are participants in the process of negotiations. This adds considerable extra cost to the process. Consultants often set themselves up as ‘indispensable’ to the process, under-estimating the abilities of both sides in the negotiating process.
  • Consultants (including Human Resources Canada) have a vested interest in promoting IBB.
  • The assumptions of IBB under-estimate ‘traditional’ bargaining
  • For example:
    1. in traditional bargaining the parties never understand the interests of the other side;
    2. in traditional bargaining negotiators never seek creative solutions to mutual problems;
    3. power has no place in negotiations – parties arrive at decisions only on the basis of objective criteria;
    4. if you talk about a problem long enough, you can always find a mutually satisfactory solution;
    5. if you can creatively solve problems, the amount of money you have to work with will expand;
    6. disagreements are always unhealthy to a relationship.

  • If the parties to the negotiation believe these assumptions, then it is likely that false expectations will be raised and the long-term bargaining relationship will suffer.

CUPE Research

January 1999