This week we suggested a ‘kitchen table’ letter for a client in the midst of a bargaining impasse and a swirl of industrial action.

The kitchen table letter is one sent to the home of employees. Its aim is to ‘speak’ directly to the employees and potentially others in their family.

It reminds us of a manufacturer that bargained for most of last year. A ‘kitchen table’ letter was a small but important part of the mix.

This manufacturer secured real changes in a tough environment as a result of the agreement reached. Amidst the bargaining, it implemented redundancies. A brave move. But necessity fortifies the brave.

So too was the decision to face industrial action. Never before had this employer done so. Production line continuity was and is paramount. History taught the unions that a whiff of industrial action would see the employer capitulate.

But did everyone take action? No.

Were there days of strike action? No.

Did employees become tired of losing money as a result of the action? Yes.

Was the union in a stronger position having taken the action? No.

The employer stood its ground. It ‘crossed the Rubicon’. Its leadership recognised that the long-term price of saying ‘yes’ was much higher than the short-term impact of saying ‘no’.

It changed the game. The leverage equation swung. Employees became fed-up with losing money for no gain. The union had played its best card and was now looking for a way out.

What was the one type of thinking which fortified the employer? It was this: what action was really likely, for how long and how did this compare with the long-term cost of saying ‘yes’?

The return on investment (ROI) on this employer’s bargaining campaign was approximately 200% over the life of the agreement – and that’s taking into account the cost of the industrial action. Obviously, this represented a significant and bankable gain over the next 3 years with employees nonetheless enjoying a pay increase at market rates.