I’m taking a negotiation class this semester, and last night the presenting group chose to utilize clips from the AMC show, Mad Men. The episode they used focused on the sale of the Sterling Cooper ad agency, and its main players deciding to start their own agency. One clip showed power play Bert Cooper trying to convince another power player, Roger Sterling, to start a new agency. His argument, “You’ve seen the guys my age, playing golf and vacationing, and they’re dead in 3 years. You’ve got to have something to live for, and this is it!” Roger’s response, “Join or die? That’s your pitch?” This morning, my boss mentioned the American Airlines protesters at DFW Airport, and it made me think about last night’s discussion of the “join or die” pitch.
The labor union disputes with American Airlines have been on-going for several years, but late in 2011, American Airlines declared bankruptcy. In my opinion, there’s fault on both sides for the failure of the negotiations, and I’d say both sides are in a “join or die” situation. We talk a lot about dependency in my class, and how that creates power for each party. We also talk about the Best Alternative to the Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), and the fact that when neither party has a strong BATNA, it’s in their best interests to come to some kind of agreement.
While no one wants to work for unfair wages or unfair hours, there comes a point that standing your ground actually means NO wages and NO hours. If the unions keep pushing for more at the negotiation table, there won’t even be a table to come to! American Airlines has made some poor decisions that are unrelated to the union issues, but the union demands (and meeting those demands) are partially to blame for the bankruptcy. So, the BATNA for both parties is that everyone loses their job, instead of having lower wages, fewer hours, and fewer benefits. Sounds like a pretty terrible alternative to me! Of course, this is also problematic if the big executives are receiving huge severance packages while the lowly front-line worker is getting screwed. But essentially, both parties are in a “join or die” phase: either you get together and work out some kind of wage agreement, or the whole company goes under, and no one gets any wages at all.
It’s a bad situation all the way around, but I think both American Airlines and the unions need to realize that they’re no longer talking about a “better” or “best” situation. If they could both step away from the table long enough to realize that you can’t win without the other party, they might just come to a solution. In the Mad Men episode, Roger finally opted to “join”. He was skeptical of the initial pitch, but he realized that death was a terrible BATNA. I wonder if American Airlines and the unions will choose to join… or die?