Arlington Heights village attorney retiring
A top Arlington Heights official, known for her transformation of what was often a contentious union contract negotiation process, will retire next week after more than three decades as the village's longtime in-house attorney.
Robin Ward joined the staff at the village hall in 1988 after three years as a hearing officer at the newly-formed state labor relations board. It was that experience that gave her insight into the bargaining process.
During her first week on the job, negotiations began with the firefighters' union, and things quickly got heated. An arbitrator stepped in and firefighters went more than two years without a contract.
It wasn't long after that Ward got a flyer in the mail touting a Harvard University course about "win-win" bargaining. She and others from village staff, the fire union, and eventually the police union went through the training. The process, also called interest-based bargaining, is now the norm in Arlington Heights negotiating sessions.
Ward said instead of sitting across the table from one another, everyone sits at a U-shaped table. As issues are discussed, straw polls of thumbs-up, down, or sideways are taken to build consensus.
"We took what was a terrible process in this town -- typical adversarial negotiations -- and turned it into something else. We needed a change," Ward said. "It's made everything that goes on easier because the relationships are better. We're not going to agree, but it makes it easier to discuss issues that come up."
Current fire union President Steve Schwartz praised Ward as an innovator who has made contract talks fruitful for both firefighters and the village.
"In order to do interest-based bargaining, it takes mutual trust on both sides, and I want to thank her for nurturing that relationship over all these years," he said.