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A Grand Alliance

Thinking Outside the Box: Bargaining for the Common Good

(This article first appeared in the Sept-Oct 2017 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

All over the country, public sector unions and their community allies are beginning to think outside the box when it comes to collective bargaining. The new strategy, called Bargaining for the Common Good, seeks to forge coalitions that can use the leverage of collective bargaining to benefit the broader community. Furthermore, community involvement puts more pressure on the employer to act on the shared demands.


Activists at a Fix L.A. Coalition rally.

For example, when the impact of the 2008 financial collapse resulted in a smaller tax base, the city of Los Angeles went into austerity mode, slashing spending on government services by 19 percent. In response to the cuts in service, SEIU Local 721 and AFSCME District Council 36 initiated a broad coalition of community and faith-based organizations called the Fix L.A. Coalition.  

“The city has all but stopped repairing sidewalks, clearing alleys, and installing speed bumps,” the coalition reported. By “following the money,” they revealed that in 2013 alone, the city spent $290 million on Wall Street financial fees in contrast to $163 million maintaining city streets. The Fix L.A. Coalition demanded that the city negotiate better deals with Wall Street and use the savings to restore city services.

By using the bargaining process to shed light on city finances and standing together with a set of joint de- mands, the union and their allies successfully bargained for gains in wages and benefits, the creation of 5,000 new jobs and restoration of the city’s budget for street services.

Bargaining for the Common Good represents a realignment of “community and labor organizations, a poten- tially potent melding of their interest, organizations energies, and agendas that [go] well beyond the merely transactional forms of coalition-making that we have often seen between labor and community organizations in the past,” according to Professor Joseph A. McCartin (Georgetown University). “Unions [are not] merely enlisting community groups to support their contract campaigns; instead unions and their allies built a common agenda from the ground up.”

APWU and A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service participated in a three-day Bargaining for the Common Good conference in April 2017. Our sisters and brothers in other public sector unions and in community groups around the country, shared their strategies and experience for building coalitions, aligning union members’ interests with those of community members, as well as techniques for researching and analyzing the financial players who often impact the bargaining process even if they are not sitting at the table.

“Our union brought many elements of Bargaining for the Common Good to our 2015 contract fight, including the interests and influence of the more than 75 national organizations of A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service,” said President Dimondstein. “We will continue to fight to protect the public Postal Service and to expand services that the public wants and so richly deserves.”