Other Models for Labor-Management Dispute Resolution: The Wisconsin Experiment

Source: Christine D. Ver Ploeg, William Mitchell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-12, May 13, 2010

From the abstract:
Twenty-two years ago leaders from the Wisconsin Department of Labor Relations and leaders from the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, agreed that they needed a more efficient way to deal with their backlog of grievances, many of which involved routine issues and did not require a precedential decision. To that end they mutually crafted two special arbitration procedures: the umpire arbitration process and the expedited arbitration process. In the intervening years the parties have resolved a large portion of their grievances using these special procedures, and today relatively few grievances are taken to conventional arbitration.

Given this extended and extensive track record, the parties were interested in now more closely examining their experience to determine how the advocates who have been in the trenches and use these special processes evaluate them and how they might be improved. To that end arbitrators prepared a ninety-question anonymous survey to which an advocate could respond with a quantifiable score and could also offer additional related thoughts.

All of the advocates – who among themselves had one to thirty-six years of labor relations experience – responded to this survey. Results revealed that both union and management advocates are highly satisfied with the umpire arbitration and expedited arbitration processes. Advocates suggested very few changes and none would support eliminating these special procedures as options.

In short, it is fair to say that the parties have realized their goal of resolving select grievances more efficiently while at the same time preserving fairness and effectiveness. These special arbitration procedures have worked well, and in today’s even more challenging economy other parties with substantial grievance backlogs could learn much from the Wisconsin experience.

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