Nate Barber: I met Bob when I attended a June seminar at HLS in 2009. My union, Local 2509 of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) sent me and fellow Nantucket firefighter Jeff Allen to take the week-long Basic Negotiation class at Harvard. Right from the first day Bob was very interested in our attendance in the class due the fact that he had never had firefighters in his classes or any public safety unions in general. We explained our collective bargaining negotiations in detail and what we were there to learn. He was genuinely interested in our process and type of negotiation and eager to help us in any way he could. The class was an amazing experience. We met great people and learned a great deal to take back to Nantucket for future negotiations.
That October we set up a training on island with former HLS students Elaine (Lin ’10) and Adam (Glenn ’10) with the town administrators and the unions. In the class we had some great feedback from the participants. Bob had the idea of creating a system of negotiation between the town and the major municipal unions. He recognized that negotiations are an ongoing event in our realm and took it as an opportunity for students to work on. I worked with him for about eight months after that to set up and conduct a clinical project with HNMCP, in the Spring of 2010, with the students to come to the island and work on a system.
HNMCP: Did you have any concerns about working with students?
NB: We thought that there was a great deal of benefits of working with the students and very little down side. We liked that the unions and the town would have a mutual project where negotiation could be talked about in the academic setting but contribute to actual future negotiations. We liked that the project was in the hands of capable Harvard students who were willing to donate a significant portion of time to our situation. We also liked that it was going to create a different venue for management and unions to share ideas.
HNMCP: What were some of the challenges of the project?
NB: Some of the challenges had to do with logistics and travel due to the geography of the island. We were able to work through it all with help from the students and IAFF. Scheduling was tricky at times but we were able to get focus groups and interviews together with few problems.
HNMCP: What was your favorite part of the project?
NB: The best part of the project was the fact that both sides sat down and had open and intelligent discussion about negotiations. The report was fantastic, of course, but also the outcome of the project opened up the minds of many people to the ideas of negotiation. Neither side had much negotiation education before the project, so there was a great deal of fresh ideas for everyone to absorb. I believe this open discussion also created a better negotiation relationship for years to come.