ADR Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below are FAQs about the FLRA's ADR Services.  If you have additional questions, please contact the appropriate FLRA office. 

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

ADR at the FLRA is a collection of informal methods used by a neutral person to help prevent and solve problems that often arise during litigation.  ADR practitioners at the FLRA help parties engage more constructively to develop interest-based solutions to pending negotiability appeals, arbitration exceptions, impasse-bargaining disputes, unfair labor practice cases, and representation cases. 

What are the benefits of using ADR in Labor-Management Relationships?

The goal of ADR is to solve problems rather than simply resolve disputes.  The effect of ADR therefore can be more far-reaching and long-lasting.

The focus of ADR is to attack the problem rather than attack each other.  This enables parties to minimize damage to the labor-management relationship that otherwise occurs when litigating, when engaging in position-based bargaining, and when engaging in other traditional dispute-resolution processes.

Most people want to avoid conflict.  ADR enables participants to confront the problem without confronting each other.  

Unlike litigation and other traditional dispute-resolution methods, ADR helps preserve party control over the outcome of the dispute.

"Interests" are the reasons why we care about the outcome of our disputes.  ADR enables parties to seek outcomes based on shared and separate interests, whereas traditional dispute-resolution methods focus on positions (one party's preferred solution at the expense of any other party's preferred solution).

If "winning" means satisfying as many interests as possible, ADR is more likely than traditional methods to help all participants win more.

ADR is often quicker and more private than traditional dispute-resolution methods.

ADR tends to be less formal, less risky, and less costly.

Parties are more likely to comply with agreements reached using ADR.

Some forms of ADR, such as consensus decision-making, enable more participants to have an active role in the decision-making process.  This can result in more satisfying solutions because they better satisfy more of the participants' interests.  

Some forms of ADR can encourage more creative and innovative solutions. 

Consistent use of ADR techniques can improve labor-management relationships, improve problem solving, create a productive working environment, and result in better mission accomplishment, better quality of work life, and better employee engagement. 

What types of ADR services does the FLRA provide?

ADR methods used by various components of the FLRA include facilitation, coaching, mediation, mediation-arbitration (med-arb), fact finding, early neutral evaluation, settlement conference, ombuds, partnering, and some forms of training.

Facilitation

Facilitation is a process in which someone with no stake in the outcome -- a facilitator -- helps participants accomplish goals by managing group process.  Facilitators provide structure, help participants develop ground rules and remain focused, and manage discussion, group dynamics, conflict,  communication, problem solving, and decision making.

Coaching

Conflict coaches work 1-on-1 with individuals to seek better outcomes of specific conflicts.  Depending on the situation, a coach might help the individual clarify sources of the conflict, the scope and nature of what might be addressed, interests, options, strategies, and possible consequences of alternate paths forward.

Mediation

In mediation, a neutral third party helps disputants identify problems, focus on interests, explore options, and negotiate a mutually agreeable solution.  Mediators do not render a decision on the merits, and many mediators refrain from even speculating about outcome.

Mediation-arbitration (med-arb)

Med-Arb is a process in which a third party first serves as a mediator to help parties negotiate a solution.  If parties fail to achieve a complete solution, then the third party becomes an arbitrator, possibly seeks additional evidence, and renders a decision (usually binding).  

Fact finding

In fact finding, a third-party subject-matter expert conducts an informal investigation, makes factual determinations, and sometimes helps parties use the determinations to narrow issues, assess risks and opportunities, and negotiate solutions.

Early neutral evaluation

 In early neutral evaluation (ENE), parties use a neutral fact-finder, usually with substantive expertise, to evaluate the relative merits of the cases.  Parties often deliver to the neutral an informal presentation of the highlights of their best case.  The ENE neutral provides a non-binding, objective assessment, thereby increasing the chances that further negotiations will be productive.

Settlement Conference

In a settlement conference, a neutral – often a judge other than the presiding one – serves as a mediator or neutral evaluator in a pending case.  The settlement judge might offer an informal advisory opinion.  If the parties do not reach settlement, the settlement judge steps aside, and the case continues before the presiding judge, who ultimately renders a decision.

Ombuds

An organizational ombuds is an organizational representative who investigates and tries to resolve complaints about that organization.  When an investigation indicates that the problem resulted from a system failure, the ombuds might suggest reforms.  When appropriate, the ombuds might also help the complainant to see that the organization acted properly.

Partnering

Participants seek to identify common goals and interests, and establish clear lines of communication.  The process may involve a joint workshop, managed by a neutral facilitator, to develop a team charter, as well as follow-up meetings and evaluation processes.  A partnering agreement usually includes a commitment by the parties to use ADR to resolve disputes that arise.

Are all FLRA ADR programs voluntary? 

Yes, except those that the Federal Service Impasses Panel might order. 

Where do the FLRA's ADR programs fit in the normal case processing?  

The FLRA's Regulations for negotiability, arbitration exceptions, unfair labor practice cases, representation cases, and collective-bargaining impasses provide for opportunities to use appropriate ADR methods to resolve, or at least narrow, the scope of disputes in their cases.  For example, as soon as parties file a negotiability petition or arbitration exceptions, by mutual agreement, the parties can use CADRO ADR services.  In unfair labor practice cases, an ADR process enables the parties to engage in a facilitated problem-solving approach rather than the traditional Regional-Office investigation and determination.  For cases on their way to hearing before an FLRA Administrative Law Judge, the FLRA Office of Administrative Law Judges' Settlement Judge Program, in collaboration with CADRO, offers parties an opportunity to seek a mediated resolution.

Which FLRA components offer ADR services? 

All FLRA components offer ADR services.

The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) offers ADR services in unfair labor practice and representation cases, both before cases are filed and while they are pending.  Through its Regional Offices and the OGC National Office, the OGC provides facilitation, intervention, training, and education services to agencies and unions.  Many Regional Offices have a Regional Dispute Resolution Specialist who coordinates ADR services within the Region.

The Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) offers settlement judge services for parties that have hearings on ULP complaints pending before an ALJ.

The Collaboration and ADR Office (CADRO) offers mediation services in connection with negotiability cases and arbitration exceptions pending before the Authority, as well as in certain federal-sector collective-bargaining disputes.  CADRO provides the FLRA's settlement judge services in connection with ULP complaints that are scheduled for hearing before an ALJ.  CADRO also offers facilitation, coaching, ombuds, partnering, and ADR-related joint labor-management training.  CADRO helps build internal FLRA capacity to improve delivery of ADR services, and it helps all FLRA components in the delivery of ADR services.  Professional staff from the Authority component partner with CADRO staff in most ADR interventions.

The Federal Service Impasses Panel utilizes ADR methods in most collective-bargaining impasses before the Panel.  The Panel might use a combination of mediation, med-arb, and other ADR methods deemed appropriate on a case-by-case basis.