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University News

Business Students Learn Art of Negotiation
In Labor Management Simulation

by Pamela McLaren


from Dateline (April 24, 2003)

Mei Bickner discusses with her students
Mei L. Bickner, professor of management, right, discusses a point with students from her upper-division labor management relations course. Last week, the students received instructions and are now preparing
for a bargaining simulation that will be held May 10. Pictured are, from left, Kimberly Block, Sarah Holmgren and Brian Orriny.

Students in two Cal State Fullerton management courses have put aside their textbooks and rolled up their sleeves as they conduct research, network with team members and working professionals, and analyze information.

On May 10, 70 students from the labor management relations course will put their preparation “on the table” when they face off as either labor or management in a bargaining simulation.

The student teams will attempt to negotiate agreements involving health insurance and other benefits, profit sharing, salaries and overtime. Like the real world, they will struggle with plant closings, outsourcing of jobs and whether the company is making or losing money.

“To really learn negotiating, lectures and talking about it only goes so far,” says Mei L. Bickner, professor of management and a labor and employment arbitrator since 1980. “That’s why I offer this simulation. There is no better way for students to get a real feel for what it takes to negotiate agreements.”

During a period of three weeks, the students will pour over the simulation Bickner has provided. They will analyze strengths, advantages and weaknesses of the employer and the union, as well as the merits and limitations of the expiring collective bargaining agreement. Having received the simulation last week, they are in the midst of choosing issues ranging from salaries, pensions and sick leave to seniority, management rights and grievance/arbitration procedures.

The students also are consulting with federal mediators, employee relations directors and representatives of several unions who have volunteered to help out by providing advice on substance and strategy.

“They are my volunteer coaches,” Bickner says with a smile, adding that those helping out are former students and contacts that she has made over the years. “It’s good for the students to not only work together but to network with these professionals.”

Among those resource professionals is Kim Cano (B.A. business administration-management ’01), an employee/union relations consultant with Boeing Satellite Systems Inc. who took Bickner’s class and was hired by Boeing with Bickner’s recommendation. “I remember when I was in the class, we just wanted to settle,” she says. “But when you invest in the process, you really start to believe in what you're fighting for.”

Cano notes that in addition to all the preparation and the simulation, another important part of the process is the cool down, when the students reflect and talk about the strategies they used.

“This is really an excellent process,” says Andy Shelby, manager of human resources operations at Boeing Satellite Systems in Los Angeles and another of the working professionals assisting with the classes. “The preparation, the negotiations and outcomes – all are fairly close to the real process.

“The students are very bright and really do their homework,” Shelby adds. “The more preparation they do, the better they are at negotiations. They really learn a lot.”

Raymond G. Huffer, division chair of the Transportation Communications International Union, Lodge 1315 in Anaheim, agrees. “You see the same personalities and techniques that you would see in real negotiations. I enjoy seeing the students go through the simulation – their seriousness.”

“It’s a tough class,” says Bickner. “There is lots of preparation and no shortcuts. They meet across the tables and have to use all their skills, book learning and gut feelings to work out an agreement.”

On May 10, the students face their counterparts and begin the negotiations under the eyes of observers. After five hours the teams must come to either an agreement or hit an impasse.

“If they reach an impasse, they have to write a 75-page paper to ensure that they understand the costs of not reaching an agreement,” adds the professor, who has provided arbitration training for the American Arbitration Association and negotiation simulations at a number of conferences.

At the end of the simulation, the student teams prepare a folder outlining the preparation that they went through – analysis, negotiation priorities, the proposals that they exchange a week before the actual negotiation, a follow-up audit and minutes from team meetings.

“They complain the whole time about the amount of preparation they need to do but they feel good when they have accomplished the task,” says Bickner. “These students will never forget this class or the lessons they receive.”

Media Contacts: Mei L. Bickner, professor of management, at 657-278-3828 or mbickner@fullerton.edu
Pamela McLaren of Public Affairs, at 657-278-4852 or


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