Impasses, Mediation, and Strikes

An impasse occurs when the parties are not able to move further toward settlement. This usually occurs because one party is demanding more than the other will offer. Sometimes a third party, such as a mediator, can resolve an impasse. If the impasse is not resolved, the union may call a work stoppage, or strike. With mediation, a neutral third party tries to assist the principals in reaching agreement. The mediator meets with each party to determine where each stands, and then uses this information to find common ground for bargaining.

In certain situations, such as in certain critical transportation disputes, a fact finder is a neutral party who studies the issues in a dispute and makes a public recommendation for a reasonable settlement. Arbitration is the most definitive third-party intervention, because the arbitrator may have the power to determine the settlement terms. Arbitration may be voluntary or compulsory. With binding arbitration, both parties are committed to accepting the arbitrator’s award. With nonbinding arbitration, they are not.

There are two main topics of arbitration. Interest arbitration centers on working out a labor agreement; the parties use it when such agreements do not yet exist or when one or both parties are seeking to change the agreement. Rights arbitration really means contract interpretation arbitration. It usually involves interpreting existing contract terms, for instance, when an employee questions the employer’s right to have taken some disciplinary action.

Mediators will often use alternative dispute resolution tactics (such as asking if the parties want to take a break, or are willing to set the issue at hand aside temporarily) to head off or deal with an impasse. A strike is a withdrawal of labor. Picketing, or having employees carry signs announcing their concerns near the employer’s place of business, is one of the first activities to appear during a strike. Its purpose is to inform the public about the existence of the labor dispute.
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