This is the time of year when our public sector clients begin negotiations over labor agreements set to expire December 31. In fact, this week I had my first negotiation session with Teamsters Union Local # 346.

Bargaining is a process and depending on the number of issues or the significance of the issues, it may take awhile. A valuable step in the collective bargaining process is to track all the proposals exchanged between the parties. Personally, I like to color-code and summarize the status of proposals in a chart format. I like to use color to distinguish between Union proposals and the Employer proposals. By doing this, I can determine at a quick glance if an issue has been tentatively agreed to, withdrawn by either side, or is still on the table. I know some people don’t care to color-code. Everyone needs to find whatever is easiest for them to keep track of the proposals. I prepare the chart and use it strictly for myself and the negotiation committee. I do not provide it to the Union. The chart is a good overview of the status of negotiations, but the proposals I make are separate.

It is also vital to take detailed and thorough notes during negotiations. This way if there is any confusion later you have something to look back on, and not just rely on memories. I prefer to present any substantial proposals or counter-proposals in writing, so there is no confusion. I have a mini-laptop I bring with to negotiation sessions, so I can update any proposals and have then printed out before presenting them to the Union.

Negotiation notes can be introduced as evidence in a subsequent grievance arbitration over disputed contract language, to help establish the intent of the parties.In 2009, Arbitrator Fogelberg sustained a contract interpretation grievance based on his review of the Union and Employer’s negotiation notes, and testimony of the parties about the negotiation process. Make sure you can substantiate the bargaining history by keeping good negotiation notes.