The outcome of any conflict in labor relations, litigation and in life depends on four factors, and the successful Teamsters strike at sand and gravel companies this week is a powerful lesson about the importance of relative bargaining power and resolve. With the construction industry in the Seattle area booming at full tilt and driving the demand for concrete, and with the labor market for drivers unified behind the Teamsters banner, the sand and gravel companies were pinned. Strikes are always hard on workers, but the relative bargaining power in this situation undeniably favored the workers and their Union. Add to the mix a “rock solid” resolve of CalPortland drivers to lead the way and the outcome was a “record-setting” contract that was approved by a 92% margin.

The four factors that drive the outcome of any conflict are:

  1. relationships;
  2. readiness for conflict;
  3. relative bargaining power; and
  4. resolve.

To navigate through conflict strategically, it is important to be able to assess where you and your counterpart stand on each of these factors, the impact of time, and the anticipated ability to change the equation over time. As the Teamsters celebrate, and sand and gravel companies lick their wounds, we should all be grateful for the current collective bargaining laws which make it all possible. In the absence of those laws, employers would simply use their inherent bargaining power advantage to create further wealth disparity.