I learned a valuable lesson from the negotiation team working on our proposed new contract: sometimes, you can negotiate something without negotiating it at all.
Please allow me to explain. I am a member of the American Federation of Government Employees. Specifically, I am covered by a master agreement between the Department of Veterans Affairs and AFGE. Negotiations for the proposed contract have been ongoing for several years, and have finally reached the ratification stage.
To explain my previous statement, federal employees have their pay schedules set by federal law, so they are not subject to direct bargaining. So how did they negotiate an increase in take home pay without negotiating a pay increase? The employees in the Veterans Canteen Service(a sub-agency of the VA) currently receive a 50% discount at lunch. The proposed contract contains an increase to 100% for all VCS employees. This may not sound like a big deal, but it will add up to around $750 in extra take home pay for each VCS employee. For employees making under $25k a year, this is a big deal.
This case presents a good lesson for approaching contract negotiations. Sometimes you can sneak in a window when the company tries to slam the door on pay increases. If the company rejects the numbers you're looking for in direct pay increases, perhaps you can negotiate for an increase in the uniform allowance, or annual leave, or anything else that amounts to more money in your members' pockets.