The Often Overseen but Pivotal Moments of Labour Negotiations

From ensuring unionized-members of your workforce receive accurate and up-to-date information, and salaried employees understanding the contextual landscape of the talks, labour negotiations can often consume the day-to-day of the communications team.

NATIONAL experts share their key learnings on the often overlooked, but pivotal moments in labour negotiations: pre-communications and getting to why.


We often tell our clients, ‘dig your well before you need to draw water’; this is especially true for those who may become embroiled in a labour negotiation. Undertaking communications activities before you find yourself in the eye of the negotiations storm is going to serve you best.

People are inundated with information every moment of the day. You need to cut through the noise and educate people about who you are, what you do and why they should care – this takes time, energy and a strategic plan. Waiting until you’re in the middle of a heated negotiation will handcuff you and the messages you’re able to convey. More importantly, other than your most loyal supporters, people could dismiss your messages as being disingenuous and opportunistic if it’s the first time they’ve heard from you. If you speak to your supporters before you actually “need’ them, they are more likely to answer the call when the time comes.

It’s also about defining your position and not letting the other side do it for you. The best way is to communicate early and often. Your early communications can help establish people’s emotional connection to you and your organization. As we all know in communications, emotions are far more powerful motivators than logic. We might be so bold to suggest, you should always be preparing for the next round of negotiations; communications might slow down, but it should never stop.

Getting to Why

Upton Sinclair, the early twentieth century author and activist once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” This early twentieth century observation remains a poignant reminder of the importance of communications in labour negotiations; knowing your audience and harnessing their support.

While both union and management negotiating camps have become sophisticated tactical communicators, they often get wrapped up in their own world when it comes to language. If you want your audience to understand what the issues are, you need to demonstrate why it matters to them, in terms they understand.

For example, many union members, although paying members of the bargaining unit, don’t understand the complex world of Defined Benefits vs. Defined Contribution pensions, let alone the terminology that comes with pension reform discussions. So rather than spending valuable time and resources diving down the rabbit hole of actuary analysis and terminology, consider painting a picture of what proposed changes will mean to your members’ pocket book now and their retirement payments later. Conversely, if you’re on the management side, describe what the proposed changes mean for the organization’s ability to compete and invest in the future of the company and its employees. Your audience doesn’t need to understand the complex world of negotiations, but if they understand what it will mean to them in real terms, in real language, you’ll get their attention. And support.

To discuss how to prepare for your next round of labour negations, contact:

Alex McMillan