In recent years, contract bargaining between teachers and the Santa Monica-Malibu and the Beverly Hills school districts has left both sides feeling more like losers than winners.
Negotiation deadlocks, the threat of a teachers' strikes and a lingering sense of mistrust after an agreement is signed are the kinds of problems that both districts have experienced through traditional methods of collective bargaining.
This year both districts broke with tradition and tried something new.
It is called "win-win," a process that seeks to reduce the level of animosity that is often present in contract negotiations, said sociologist Irving Goldaber, 61, who developed the process.
Goldaber said that under the win-win concept, both sides state their positions and work jointly on solutions, or what he calls "new promises," and seek to avoid the feelings of giving ground that accompany most compromises.
"The goal is to emphasize communication, openness and cooperation instead of the secrecy which normally surrounds the give and take in collective bargaining," said Santa Monica-Malibu school board member Peggy Lyons, an early advocate of the new approach to bargaining. "Collective bargaining is like a poker game, win-win is not."
The Santa Monica-Malibu district hired Goldaber's Miami-based group, the Center for the Practice of Conflict Management, for a fee of $7,000 to help lead their negotiations.
The Beverly Hills district, facing the threat of a strike on the first day of school, used one aspect of the approach in its negotiations with the teachers.
And for the first time in years, both district reached tentative contract agreements after marathon weekend negotiating sessions with a minimum of friction.
Goldaber said that he developed the win-win approach after reviewing the acrimony that results from most collective bargaining sessions and deciding that "there has to be a better way to sit down and talk."
"Rather than have each side look at each other as natural enemies, we try to have each side look at the other as its resources," he said. "Every thing the board wants it has to get from the association, everything the association wants it has to get from the board. This way it creates a family . . . locked into a common destiny. "
The collective bargaining process is adversarial in nature, said Santa Monica-Malibu Supt. Eugene Tucker.
"In collective bargaining you ask for more than you think you can get and try to compromise," he said. "Under the win-win philosophy, you determine the needs of both sides and try to come up with a solution together."
Tucker said the win-win approach leaves both sides with better feelings than usually is the case under traditional collective bargaining.
Lyons said that she could remember an instance four years ago when negotiations led to bitter exchanges between the teachers and the district.
She recalled one emotion-charged board meeting when 200 angry teachers plunked crates of ungraded papers before an administrator who was quoted several weeks earlier as saying that teachers work no more than seven hours a day. The teachers said they gave the papers to the administrator to grade because they could not do it during the work day.
"That was the low point," Lyons said. "It was that point I realized that we were not communicating and something had to be done."
One of the goals of win-win is to improve communications by having school board members talk directly with top union officials.
June Lucas, president of the 450-member Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers' Assn., said that the opportunity to negotiate directly with board members rather than their representatives was a key reason why the union participated in the win-win process.
"We believe strongly in collective bargaining," she said. "We are simply looking at this technique as a variation to collective bargaining. If we can reduce or alleviate the frustration of union members by embarking on a different method of collecting bargaining, we will do it."
An example of how win-win worked, Lucas said, was when teachers wanted to divide kindergarten classes to allow some children to report to school earlier than others, giving teachers the opportunity to work with smaller groups. The board, however, objected to the proposal because it would have shortened the school day.
In the end, they agreed to set up split schedules with one group of children coming in 45 minutes ahead of the other group, but the school day was not shortened as much as the teachers had wanted.
Both sides in the negotiations met in May in an effort described by Goldaber as aimed at clearing the air. Negotiations continued in June and were put off until Aug. 17 when a tentative agreement was reached on a two-year contract. The agreement included a 2% pay increase the first year and a 5% increase in the second.