One of the cardinal rules that both labor and management profess when negotiations begin on contracts or other issues is: We promise that we won’t negotiate these issues in the press. I can’t remember the number of times that we have counseled clients that the best way to make rapid progress in negotiations is to keep all the discussions in the confines of the negotiations rooms, not on the airways, not in the printed press.
New ground may have been broken in the current strike by British Airways cabin crews. Several stories claim that the impasse has been exacerbated by a number of twitter feeds from the union leadership: http://bit.ly/cM2bQZ. Management didn’t like it when key aspects of the negotiations were tweeted.
The more you read, the more it seems that this strike is akin to the assignation of Archduke Ferdinand, the event that catalyzed World War I. This work stoppage, like WWI, was just bound to happen; it just needed an event to get it going. Union and management have been publicly feuding for a while, and the BA officials might have reacted overly harshly to any perceived last minute union shenanigans.
It’s been our experience that unions more than management use the press to negotiate, but I haven’t seen a scientific study of this. For the larger world of communications, the question is whether a tweet of only 140 characters was more inflammatory than a longer blog posting, op-ed column, or an interview with more traditional media. I don’t think so, but we want to start a discussion of whether tweets are worse than other ways of negotiating in public.