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Good Partnering Methods Aren’t Just for the Bargaining Table: How the interest-based process keeps potential problems from becoming real problems

Michael Belmont, KP administrator turned bargaining facilitator

A former KP administrator, Michael Belmont now works for Restructuring Associates Inc., the consulting firm that helped during the creation and initial implementation of the Labor Management Partnership and that now helps facilitate national bargaining. He sees interest-based bargaining as a way to solve the problems of the future, before they arise, instead of getting stuck dealing with the baggage of past grievances.

My time at Kaiser Permanente dates back to the late 1980s. I was assistant hospital administrator in Panorama City, dealing with several unions. We were facing so much discord. It was all-encompassing, and it took the focus off improvement issues. The move toward interest-based bargaining and [the] Labor Management Partnership allowed us to put the focus on improving the member experience instead of continually trying to resolve labor problems.

Partnership, especially interest-based bargaining, gives employees and their unions a chance to have an impact on things they might not otherwise. They have a say beyond wages, hours and working conditions. In 2012, there was a bargaining subgroup on growth, focusing both on growing Kaiser Permanente and the unions. In a traditional setting, that doesn’t happen. For employees and their unions, the other side of the interest-based process is responsibility and accountability to take on and help solve the problems of the organization.

When we do trainings on interest-based problem solving, people will say, “This is how I deal with relationships.” If you are going to be a good partner—and have a successful relationship with a partner, kids, friends—you have to have your partner’s interests in mind as well as your own. Making this connection helps people connect the strategy to their work lives.

After 2000 bargaining, the Southern California region was looking for a change in labor relations, away from traditional, toward partnership. We were trying to move labor relations away from being a wall between the unions and management and toward facilitating a productive relationship between unions and management. I saw a gradual transition toward more of a partnering role. I left KP in 2006. I could come back [with Restructuring Associates] as a neutral [party] in 2010 and 2012 because of the [nature of the previous] relationships with union and management officials.

Interest-based bargaining is focused on solving problems up front rather than on grievances. People have to unlearn a lot of habits and build a lot of trust. There was 50 years of baggage [when the partnership started]. A traditional approach leaves lots of scars. Traditional is the comfort zone for most organizations. Traditional approaches are backwards looking: They are about solving problems from the past that pile up and wait for bargaining. Interest-based bargaining is about solving problems and issues that may come up in the future. Using the interest-based approach in bargaining and in day-to-day work is a much more forward-looking way to solve problems—and so much more effective.

New Zealand District Health Boards

Click here to watch a video of RAI president and CEO Tom Schneider delivering a key lecture to members of the Centre of Health System Improvement and Innovation for the Counties Manukau District Health Board. RAI is working in New Zealand to develop high engagement, high performance organizations in the healthcare and public sectors.

New Zealand Public Sector

In February 2013, RAI President & CEO Tom Schneider and senior consultant Mike Belmont were in New Zealand, working to build high-performance, high-engagement organizations with various departments of the New Zealand government in cooperation with the country's largest public employees' union, the Public Service Association.

Pictured: Senior consultant Mike Belmont with RAI President & CEO Tom Schneider in New Zealand to work with the Auckland Council and its union - the PSA - to build a high-performance, high-engagement culture and Union-Management partnership.

RAI President Tom Schneider is interviewed by New Zealand's National Business Review and discusses how high performing organizations succeed.

New Publications Lead the Way in Research

RAI and its consultants are featured in a new book for their role in facilitating and developing  the most complex labor-management partnership in the world.  Healing Together: The Labor-Management Partnership at Kaiser Permanente tracks the development and evolution of the partnership which now encompasses 8.6 million members and twenty-seven unions. 

RAI consultants John Stepp and Gary Bergel's article, "Moving from Interest-Based to Results-Focused Bargaining," receives positve feedback. Click here to read the article which appeared in Perspectives on Work, Winter 2008, and is reprinted with permission of the Labor and Employment Relations Association.

Kaiser Permanente: Successful Bargaining

Since 1997, RAI has consulted to Kaiser Permanente's LMP and has directly supported every round of national bargaining.

In the 2012 negotiations, as in the past, RAI worked with senior management and union leaders to plan, coordinate, and lead the bargaining process. In addition, RAI teamed with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to deliver interest based training to bargaining teams and to facilitate bargaining sessions. See the links below for more information.

Yale and Its Unions

Yale University and its clerical and technical employees’ union – Unite Here Locals 34 and 35 - recently reached a four year contract agreement that was approved unanimously by the union membership.  The current contract was not due to expire until January 2013.  Yale University president Richard Levin stated that the success of the negotiations reflected an effort by Yale to “extend the cooperative working relationships with our unions that began nearly a decade ago.”  Local 35 president Bob Proto believes that the success of the negotiations stemmed from “problem solving and making sure decision makers were in the room.” 

Yale University and its unions have maintained labor peace since 2003, when an effort was made by both sides to repair a dysfunctional relationship.  Restructuring Associates Inc. was hired by Yale University as the consultant to build a new collaborative relationship between the University and its unions by developing a system of joint processes to solve problems and to improve performance using interest based processes as a means to resolve differences.  Restructuring Associates Inc. also was the consultant for Yale and its unions in developing their Best Practices Initiative.  Prior to RAI’s efforts at Yale University, labor strife had plagued and hindered successful negotiations and relations for decades.

RAI in Australia

RAI President Tom Schneider speaks about the need for companies to engage with union workers in Australia.


RAI President, Tom Schneider presented "Organizational Transformation: Engagement of Labor is the Critical Variable: Case Study PG&E" at the 2nd International Workshop on Work and Intervention Practices held in Quebec City from 27-29 August, 2008. The conference theme was "Different Perspectives on Work Changes. Click here to view the conference schedule and presentations.

RAI President, Tom Schneider presented "The Consultant's Are Coming" at the IBEW 2008 Utility Conference. Click here to read the full presentation.

RAI presented at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) 14th National Labor-Management Conference held June 9-11, 2008 in Washington, D.C. Click here to read the full conference schedule and presentation descriptions.

  • RAI President, Tom Schneider presented "Emerging Trends: Strategic Relationships Between Labor and Management: An Assessment of 25 Years Experience with Labor-Management Partnerships" Click here for the presentation description.
  • RAI Consultants Gary Bergel, Mike Gaffney and John Stepp led a workshop, "Maximizing the Potential of Interest-Based Approaches to Bargaining: Getting Results Without Getting Stymied by the Process." Click here for the workshop description.
  • RAI President, Tom Schneider and PG&E, participated in the labor-management panel discussion entitled "Balancing Unilateral Action with Joint Dialogue and Decision Making: The Impact of Increasing Competition in Utilities." Click here for the panel description.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Given the global challenges facing the newspaper industry, RAI's work with the Star Tribune already has been the topic of several articles/blogs. See the links below for more information.



Restructuring Associates Inc.
#602, 4545 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 775-8213 / Fax: (202) 223-0346
Email : raicentral@restructassoc.com