“When I first started my career in education
decades ago, we were getting 6-percent annual salary
increases and our health care was amazing,” says
Dustin Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery
Community College in upstate New York. “Today,
health care premiums are skyrocketing. Budgets
This new landscape calls for a different
approach to negotiating. With funding for higher
education failing to keep pace with inflation in
many states, today’s college leaders must be cre-
ative problem solvers.
Before Swanger became president at Fulton-
Montgomery, the college had what he describes
as a “pretty traditional” approach to negotiations:
“The union had an attorney on its side, and we
had an attorney on our side. The two teams sat
in a room and stared at each other, and the two
Swanger invited a trainer from Cornell
University’s School of Labor Relations to present a
workshop on interest-based bargaining to union
leaders and administrators. Interest-based bargaining
is a less adversarial approach to negotiating in which
the two sides focus on developing mutually beneficial
agreements based on each others’ interests, using a
collaborative approach to problem solving.
Under interest-based bargaining, contract
negotiations now look much different at Fulton-
Montgomery. “Each team sends two people to
the table to talk about what the issues are and
how we might solve those issues,” Swanger says.
“It’s just a conversation among four people. They
take that information back to the larger negoti-
ating team to get some direction, but it’s a much
Leaving the lawyers out of the discussion can
save thousands of dollars in legal fees that could
be spent on salaries instead, Ogletree says. It also
shows faculty that you trust them. “When outside
attorneys aren’t present, the relationship seems
much more respectful and collegial,” he observes.
Not all of the unions at Fulton-Montgomery
bought into interest-based bargaining initially.
“The faculty union did so first, and then the other
two unions followed suit when they saw how well
it worked,” Swanger said. Since the college adopted
this approach, “negotiations have gone much more
During the most recent contract talks with
faculty, one of the key sticking points was how
much faculty should pay for health insurance.
Under the old agreement, tenured faculty did not
have to contribute toward the cost of their insur-
ance. With health care costs on the rise, however,
it was becoming harder for the college to main-
tain this arrangement.
Of course, “nobody wants to lose ground on their
benefits,” Swanger acknowledges. Through collaborative problem solving, “we landed at a place where
anybody hired after September 2019 will contribute
Bill Scroggins, president
and CEO of Mt. San