Public policy in the United States favors alternative dispute resolution as an effective means of resolving labor disputes instead of litigation. For this reason, the majority of states with collective bargaining agreements between public school teachers and their boards of education mandate the use of formal grievance procedures to settle labor disputes. Three famous U.S. Supreme Court labor cases, referred to as the steelworkers’ trilogy (United Steelworkers of America v. American Manufacturing Company , United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior and Gulf Navigation Company , and United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel and Car Company ) reflect the connection between federal labor law and state collective bargaining law.
Along with fact-finding and arbitration, mediation is one of the three primary methods of dispute resolution used in the collective bargaining process when parties fail to reach mutually acceptable agreements. The process of mediation involves the use of neutral thirdparty mediators, who work closely with the parties to facilitate their reaching mutually acceptable agreements; it is regulated by state statute. In practice, individual mediators are chosen either by state labor relations boards or through the mutual agreement of local school boards and the bargaining units of their employees.
In contrast to arbitrators’ recommendations, those rendered by mediators are usually not disclosed to the public. At the same time, while the legal authority of mediators is limited, a number of states require that parties exhaust formal mediation efforts before they can proceed to other alternative means of dispute resolution, such as fact-finding, arbitration, or the termination of bargaining altogether.
Labor topics that are often subjects of mediation include those areas that are bargainable subjects under state collective bargaining agreements. In most states, labor issues surrounding wages, hours of employment, and contractual issues related to the terms and conditions of employment represent issues that are subject to mediation if the parties cannot reach agreements under their collective bargaining agreements. If school boards and unions ultimately fail to reach agreement after exhausting the dispute negotiation remedies of mediation, fact-finding, and arbitration, the majority, but certainly not all, of the states that allow bargaining require the parties to maintain the terms and conditions of the previous collective bargaining contract.
Kevin P. Brady
- Brady, K. P. (2007). Bargaining. In C. J. Russo (Ed.), The yearbook of education law: 2007 (pp. 101–110). Dayton, OH: Education Law Association.
- Brady, K. P. (2006). Collective bargaining. In C. J. Russo & R. D. Mawdsley (Eds.), Education law. New York: Law Journal Press.
- United Steelworkers of America v. American Manufacturing Company, 363 U.S. 564 (1960).
- United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corporation, 363 U.S. 593 (1960).
- United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Company, 363 U.S. 574 (1960).