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How John Wooden Helped Me Prepare for Labor Negotiations


John Wooden's Basketball Maxims Inspire Success at Negotiating Table

John Wooden’s Basketball Maxims Inspire Success at Negotiating Table

I draw inspiration from many places, but one of my favorite sources for material is John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins. Wooden coached the UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA national championships in 12 years, including seven consecutive titles. He’s also famous for his “Woodenisms,” modern-day proverbs that speak truths and inspire success in basketball and in life.

Wooden passed away at 99 in 2010, but his influence remains far-reaching.  In fact, his Woodenisms have inspired some of my success at the negotiating table. Let me explain:

1. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Start preparing for the next round of negotiations as soon as the ink is dry on the last contract. Maintain a file of proposals and counter-proposals and review them well in advance of the scheduled negotiations. Keep notes on work steward issues and notice patterns. If the same issue keeps repeating itself, seek to resolve it in the next contract. Six months to a year prior to negotiations, request employer tax returns if you think they’re relevant to your discussions. Review industry standards and talk to your colleagues in other markets. Analyze cost of living changes over the term of your current contract and see how wage and benefit increases match up. Look at projected cost of living adjustments and include that information in your proposals.

2. “Listen if you want to be heard.”

Set aside your own point of view for the time being and cultivate your listening skills. Meet with your members who are directly affected by the contract negotiation at least 90 days before talks open. Meet with them again and again until your proposals reflect their input.

Talk in person with your employer at least once before negotiations formally open. Find out what’s important to her and where she stands on issues that matter to your members. This will help you build trust with the employer. Share what you learn with your members as this information could impact how you approach negotiations.

People want feedback that they’ve been heard. By taking the time to listen to your members and your employer and understanding them, you open their minds and increase the chances that they will listen to you when your time comes to speak.

3. “The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.”

I like to tackle the thorniest issues right away. Ask for the employer’s collective proposals first, which will tell you right away where you stand. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want in return. On more than one occasion, employers have surprised me with positive responses.

4. “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

You can sit around in negotiations for days and all of a sudden, agreements can happen overnight. While everyone feels relief and is anxious to move on, your job is to make sure all the “t’s” are crossed and the “i’s” are dotted. Make sure several reliable sets of eyes review the terms and conditions. You and a trusted colleague should read the contract aloud to each other, which in my experience, is the best way to catch errors and inconsistencies. Consult with your labor attorney if you have one. Be quick, but don’t hurry.

5. “If I am through learning, I am through.”

Keep the file open. Your job is never done.  


Photo Credit: bitzcelt via Compfight cc

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About the Author:
FX Crowley is a Public Affairs and Labor Relations Specialist, and former 15-year Business Manager of IATSE Local 16, San Francisco. A third-generation San Franciscan, FX can break down any football game from Pop Warner to the Pros and analyze it for hours. Contact to learn more ››