Select a case from Cases 1-5 and 7 at the end of Chapter 9 in the Budd text, discuss how you would handle this at Step 3 of the grievance process as a labor relations manager and as a shop steward/union president. Explain your reasoning. Make sure to consider the strategic, practical, and ethical implications of how you handle the grievance at step 3. Consider applying the various conflict resolution theories and principles you have learned in this course, as well as organizational behavior theories and principles you have learned throughout your HR academic and professional careers.


The Final Stage: The Push to Compromise

As the pressure to reach a settlement builds and the mediator senses that the time for the final push toward resolution is at hand, the mediator becomes more aggressive. No longer passively listening to the parties’ arguments and rationalizations, the mediator tries to get the parties to face reality and adjust their expectations. The mediator may push compromise solutions while at the same time being careful to avoid becoming identified with a specific settlement point.

Overidentification with a solution that one or both party rejects can limit the continued usefulness of the mediator. Thus, any compromises the mediator proposes must be presented as merely recommendations.

The dynamics in each of the negotiating teams often change at this point as well. Frequently, team members will differ on the substantive issues. The mediator will often look to the professional negotiators on each team for help in dealing with the more militant team members. Sometimes the reverse is true: the negotiator will look to the mediator for help in calming a militant faction on the bargaining team.

These final-hour sessions often require that someone—the mediator, the professional negotiator, or both—convince the hard-liners that the best deal is at hand and that the final compromises necessary to reach a settlement should now be made. Again, the parties’ confidence in the mediator is critical to the success of these final dynamics.

Sometimes the mediator is called on in these final stages to make what are called mediator proposals. Mediator proposals are riskier and more formal ventures than the many other suggestions a mediator makes during the course of an intervention. A mediator proposal is normally made only when both parties are close to a settlement and the mediator believes that by making the proposal the parties will come to agreement.

In some cases, the mediator may make a proposal that the parties have already tacitly agreed to but for political or other reasons prefer not to offer themselves. Some mediators believe that a proposal should never be made unless the mediator is sure it will be acceptable to both parties.

The preceding description of the dynamics of mediation points out that mediators must be aggressive in pushing the parties toward a settlement—when the climate, the timing, and the pressures on the parties are right. The parties often prefer aggressive mediators, and the aggressiveness of a mediator has been shown to be related to the effectiveness of the mediation process.4


In Box 9.1, George Buckingham, one of the most experienced and successful interest-based mediators in the FMCS, describes how and when he uses interest-based techniques to facilitate the bargaining process.

BOX 9.1

How Interest-Based Mediation Works

Well before negotiations are scheduled to begin, I provide parties who express an interest or who we believe might be good candidates for an interest-based approach with a one-and-a-half-hour informational briefing. We discuss factors to think about in deciding whether or not to use this approach. In the process of this discussion, I probe to see if there are any factors that would lead me to recommend against using the process, such as no evidence of cooperation in the relationship or a history of contract rejections by one side or the other.

If the parties agree to take the next step, we then hold a two-day required training session for all members of the union and employer negotiating committees. At the end of the training, we make a trilateral (union, employer, and mediator) decision on whether or not to go forward with the process.

The next step is to hold a prenegotiations meeting to agree on two sets of ground rules. The first set are transitional ground rules that outline what will happen if at some stage the interest-based process breaks down and the parties need to return to a more traditional process. This serves as a “road map” back to the traditional process and provides a safety valve for the parties. The second set are process ground rules. Here we deal with rules such as how we define consensus decision making, how we will deal with press releases, how and when information will be communicated to constituents, and so on.

Then we are ready for an exchange of issues using an interest-based format. This exchange takes the place of a traditional exchange of proposals, or the laundry list of demands. Each issue is framed as a question that cannot be answered in a yes or no fashion. For example, an issue might be framed as: “How can we accommodate employee needs to have greater time off for funerals and handle staffing needs effectively?” We also agree at this stage on the order we will take up issues and on any information that needs to be obtained in order to discuss them. Bargaining dates are set at this time, after giving adequate consideration to the time needed to collect the necessary data.

For the actual bargaining, we commit to participating in the first two sessions or until the first issue is settled, to returning when the economic issues are taken up, and to being present as the process is coming to an end.

What do I do in these sessions? My basic role is to facilitate the process, to keep the process on a problem-solving track, and to make sure they lay out all the issues and problems and don’ t stray into a general discussion mode that will take them back to traditional positional bargaining. If, in the rare instance, I feel the need to make a substantive suggestion, I indicate that I am stepping out of my facilitating role to do so.

One of the hardest tasks the parties have is to agree on standards for evaluating options. I suggest three simple standards, but the parties are encouraged to develop their own as well. The three I use are: (1) Can we do it? (2) Does it convey benefits (related to their interests)? (3) Is it acceptable to the constituents?

The parties take up noneconomic issues first. Then, in perhaps about 35 to 40 percent of the cases, I find us using more traditional approaches to resolve the deep-gut economic issues. But even here, when the interest-based process has been successful on the earlier issues, we generally find more of a problem-solving focus and willingness to listen to each other that is often absent in the final stages of a traditional negotiation. The parties are more apt to stay in an interest-based bargaining frame of mind.

Two big differences in my experience with this approach are that the contract deadline and the strike threat are not major factors. In only three out of 60 cases I’ ve mediated in this way has a strike notice been issued, and then it was done to satisfy constituency needs rather than as a serious threat across the table. The overwhelming majority of cases have settled prior to the contract expiration date, while some have gone beyond the expiration with no serious repercussions. In only one occasion did I hold a mediation session beyond 8 p.m.

I like to use two criteria to judge whether the interest-based approach has been successful. The first is whether the parties use it again the next time. About 80 percent do so. The second is whether the number of relationship or noneconomic issues brought to negotiations decrease the second time around. If interest-based bargaining is able to really solve problems, the number of “relationship” or noneconomic” issues should go down.

Source: Interview with FMCS commissioner George Buckingham, July 1997.