Effective Persuasion – The “stint work” story

Recently, the Mayor of Kingston NY and the President of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) for the area got to air their beliefs about a work rule in a public forum – the Kingston Daily Freeman.  Their views were most likely collected independently, but were aired in the single major local paper.  Let’s see how well they used persuasion skills on the constituency.

The work rule under discussion was one referred to as “stint work”.  Under this rule, the city-employed garbage collectors have the option of working until their route is complete, and then calling it a day.  If, for example, they hustle through the job in 4 hours, they can leave.  But they still get paid for 8 hours.  To us, some of this can be described as workers’ discretion – for example they skip breaks, work faster, and leave early.  The work gets done. It is like piece work, with a cap on the number of pieces.  Some rural postal route workers have similar contracts – you get paid by the route, no matter how long or short your day might be. An alternative view would be that if they are paid for 8 hours, they should work for 8 hours. In many cases where such rules exist they are a result of some prior negotiation history.  In this case, we have no idea what that history is, or even if there is one.

Let’s see how the players expressed themselves.

The Mayor ended the rule this week, saying, “Those days are over. It just doesn’t make sense.” He expects that trash collection will continue to take the 4-6 hours it takes today, and the garbage collectors’ remaining hours will be spent on other tasks useful to the city.

The CSEA President’s take included this, “I understand that, in theory, (the mayor’s plan) sounds pretty good, but for years (workers) threw safety to the winds to get home early and get trash off the streets.” He reportedly spoke about how crews opted to toss empty garbage cans, skip breaks and ignore safety matters to get the job done quickly and go home. Trash might linger longer under the revised rules.

Who wins the war of persuasion? As negotiators, we deal in persuasion every day.

To answer this question, we go back to motivations.  If the parties are arguing in the public forum, presumably to persuade the public, how will it come out?  Well, in most localities, the public wants trash collected in a timely manner, wants value for their tax dollar, wants low taxes, and wants their trash cans set down neatly, not thrown in the middle of their lawns.

The Mayor’s argument addresses the needs of the constituency, in the main.  The CSEA President?  He offers the alternative of thrown cans, unsafe work (which has the implication of expensive medical risk), workers insufficiently rested, and the potential of last trash pickup after 6-8 hours instead of 4-6.

The Mayor wins. He may be right or wrong about the policy. There could be plenty of other history that we are not aware of. But when you go to the public, go to them with what they care about.  On that scale, the CSEA President is missing the boat.

To be a better negotiator, understand the motivations of the people you want to persuade, and create your arguments with them in mind.  (td)