I am going to generically define grievance mediation as a voluntary non-binding process using a professional labor mediator to assist the parties in negotiating a mutually acceptable resolution to their grievance dispute, where there is an alleged violation of a contract. It is “Let’s Make a Deal” in real life.
Labor arbitration is the heart and soul of Collective Bargaining. Without and grievance procedure ending in binding arbitration when the parties cannot settle a grievance a collective bargaining agreement cannot be enforced. However, arbitration the final option available to the parties not a desired result.
The Lector, as a labor attorney, has suggested grievance mediation many times to labor union clients. Sometimes successfully; sometimes not. Success occurs when the parties agree to mediate the dispute. All grievances do not have to settle during the mediation to be successful. If the grievance does not settle, the parties at least know more about the facts and issues as they go into arbitration, if it goes that far.
With labor leaders and managers who are not familiar with the process, there is sometimes resistance. This is unfortunate but expected. Mediation requires the parties to enter the process with a desire to settle a dispute. All too frequently, one side or both will only accept an absolute win or loss. If compromise is not an available option, the parties must go an outsider, a labor arbitrator, to cram an unpleasant result on one or both. So be it.
Binding arbitration is a valuable resource for resolving grievances which, for many good and bad reasons, may be beyond the ability of the parties to settle themselves. However, whether the negotiated grievance procedure includes binding arbitration, or does not, mediation of unresolved grievances can be an efficient and cost effective means of resolving many disputes.
My personal experience with grievance mediation, in Florida, has been overwhelmingly positive when I can get the parties to the mediation table. The few times when the process was not successful occurred when the real decision maker was not at the mediation meeting and later nixed the agreement made between the people at the table.
Installment Number 2 will focus in why grievance mediation is not more common.
More valuable information on grievance mediation is available in the Survivor’s Guide to a Successful Public Sector Union available at the Lectores Labor Consulting website.
And oh yes, have a nice Day?
Caveat Lectores by Jeff Carnes
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