Arbitration is the end result of the grievance process. If, after each of the steps of the grievance procedure have been completed, and the employee and her union are still not satisfied with the outcome, the union can formally demand that the parties go to arbitration.

A formal demand must be presented to the employer within a certain number of days after the last step of the grievance procedure was performed. The parties then choose an arbitrator by the mechanism detailed in the collective bargaining agreement, i.e. Federal Mediation Conciliation Services, American Arbitration Association, private arbitrator, or other process.

An arbitration resembles a mini trial, except they occur at an expedited basis so there is no discovery, no depositions, and no pre-arbitration motion filing like in law suits. Witnesses are sworn in and testify, evidence is collected, and post-arbitration briefs are filed. The arbitrator’s decision is usually final and binding. Neither the employer nor the union can appeal the decision and both sides must comply with the holding.

Worth noting, collective bargaining agreements should specify that arbitrators are not permitted to add to, subtract from, or modify the collective bargaining agreement; arbitrators cannot rule on anything that happened before the collective bargaining agreement became effective or after if expired; and arbitrators cannot award punitive damages, damages for pain and suffering, or attorneys’ fees.

Valid grievance and arbitration clauses in collective bargaining agreements preclude employees from going on strike and forbid employers from locking out employees during the term of the contract.