Negotiations may fail to lead to a completed agreement between a teachers’ union and a school board. When good faith efforts fail to resolve the dispute or disputes between the parties, a legal impasse occurs. At the time impasse occurs, active bargaining between the parties is usually suspended.
Parties usually go through a series of options once an impasse has occurred, though public and private school teachers’ options may differ. The first step after an impasse is declared is usually mediation. When parties employ a mediator, the mediator acts as a neutral third party to assist the two sides in reaching a compromise. Mediators lack power to make binding decisions, and they are employed only as advisors. Many state statutes require use of mediators in the public sector upon declaration of an impasse. Private sector unions and schools may employ a federal mediator, though federal labor laws do not prescribe further options regarding dispute resolution.
If mediation fails, many state statutes require the parties to employ a fact-finder, who analyzes the facts of the bargaining process and seeks to recognize a potential compromise. The parties are not bound by the recommendations of the fact-finder, though it may influence public opinion regarding the appropriate resolution of the dispute. The recommendations are particularly influential in the public sector, where the school board is a government body consisting of elected officials, and teachers and other staff are public employees. However, this step in the process may not bring resolution to the dispute. In some states, fact-finding is the final stage of impasse resolution, leaving the parties to bargain among themselves.
A third option is arbitration, though this is generally only employed in the public education sector. An arbitrator is a third party who performs functions similar to a fact-finder, yet the arbitrator’s decision is binding on both parties. In several states, arbitration is permissive, meaning parties may submit their dispute to an arbitrator after fact-finding if they so desire. Some states mandate use of binding arbitration, often as an alternative to the right to strike.