Early bird contract settlement
An early bird contract settlement or simply "an early bird," is the term used to describe a contract agreement reached by negotiation between a school district and a teacher union negotiations conducted prior to the mandatory schedule established by state law.
In Pennsylvania, Act 88 of 1992 requires that negotiations begin during January of the year in which an existing contract is scheduled to expire and established a formal procedure for submitting offers and counter-offers. An early bird agreement is typically reached without advance publicity -- often without any public announcement that talks are even being conducted. By mutual agreement, early bird negotiations are often (but not necessarily) limited to changes in employee salary and benefits, leaving all other existing contract provisions unchanged.
Opinions of early bird settlements
Opinion is divided on the merits of early bird settlements. Those who favor them point out that they minimize demands on management time and avoid public controversy. early birds are likely to be negotiated by local employers and local union officers without the direct participation of "hired guns," either state union negotiators or special counsel hired by management. Smaller, less formal meetings among people who know and must continue to work with each other are more likely to result in more problem-solving than is possible when professional negotiators view issues as bargaining chips, rather than evaluating them on their merits.
Those who oppose early birds object that minimizing public controversy really means allowing public officials to present the public with final agreements that they are unwilling to submit to advance scrutiny by potential critics.
A potential middle ground is to allow early bird negotiations to go forward without public notice but to require a meaningful public comment period on any proposed agreements that result. Act 34 of 1972, Pennsylvania's so called "Taj Mahal Act," has been suggested as a model.