The author became a labor arbitrator in 1975 after prior careers as an editor and as a corporate vice president of industrial relations. He holds an M.B.A. degree from New York University and lives in New York City. This article is adapted from an address at the 2002 Fall Education conference, National Academy of Arbitrators, Vancouver, Canada, October 26, 2002.
The only guidance on writing labor arbitration awards in the “Code of Professional Responsibility for Arbitrators of Labor-Management Disputes” provides that “the award should be definite, certain, and as concise as possible.” Certainly clarity is important in an arbitration opinion. One tip given to me by an editor many years ago is this: Test your writing by reading it aloud to yourself. If you stumble over a word phrase or sentence, it needs revision.
The Code also sets out the factors “to be considered” by the arbitrator when an opinion is required. They include:
[the] desirability of brevity ...; [the] need to use a style and form ... understandable to ... representatives of the parties, to the grievant and supervisors, and to others in the collective bargaining relationship; [the] necessity of meeting the significant issues; forthrightness to an extent not harmful to the relationship of the parties; and [the] avoidance of gratuitous advice or discourse not essential to disposition of the issues.
Even within the unambiguous guidelines of the Code, there are many paths to the written opinion (as there are to a romantic encounter). Should the approach be direct or subtle? Will the grievant feel that the arbitrator has paid sufficient attention to his or her needs? Has the arbitrator expressed the opinion in a convincing manner? What should be said and, just as important, left unsaid?