The history of labor relations in the United States has not always been smooth and peaceful, but in the modern day, contract negotiations and other on-the-job discussions have become a common facet of everyday working life. Both corporations that employ unionized workers and the unions themselves understand that an adversarial, litigious position when it comes to labor relations is counter-productive, expensive, and time-consuming. A far better approach is to negotiate and use a well-designed grievance procedure with arbitration as the terminal step for resolving disputes arising under labor contracts.
Arbitration is a method of dispute resolution in which parties to a dispute submit their controversy to an impartial person or panel for a final and binding decision, based on evidence and arguments presented by the parties at the arbitration hearing.
With respect to labor-management relations, two basic forms of arbitration are used. Grievance arbitration, or “rights” arbitration, is used to resolve disputes concerning the interpretation or application of an existing collective bargaining agreement. It is the terminal step of the contractual grievance procedure, a form of which appears in almost every labor agreement.
Interest” arbitration, in contrast, is used to resolve disputes relating to the future terms and conditions of a labor agreement. These disputes do not arise from alleged violations of an existing contract, but rather, on the wording to be utilized in the contract itself. Interest arbitration is generally preceded by an impasse in contract negotiations between the parties. The process may be invoked voluntarily, but it usually occurs because it has been mandated by state and federal laws that require this type of arbitration in the public sector, where the strike is often prohibited.
Regardless of whether a dispute arises in contract negotiations or during the term of a collective bargaining agreement, arbitration has become a valued and established method for resolving the conflict. It is a faster and more direct process than litigation, without the complexity and delay of court actions, or the economic chaos of strikes, slowdowns, and walkouts.
The key to a successful labor arbitration process is the arbitrator selected to guide the procedure and render a decision. Joan Parker has been helping unions and employers to settle contractual differences for more than three decades, offering her expertise on state and federal labor laws, her knowledge of the law of the shop, and the training she has completed and continues to undertake as a professional neutral. She earned her doctorate from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University and currently serves as permanent umpire under several collective bargaining agreements involving national and multinational corporations such as NBC, Disney ABC, Verizon, Pepsi Cola, AT & T, AK Steel, Boeing, and United Technologies.