Fact finding

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Fact finding is a dispute resolution mechanism under which opposing parties submit their "best and final" offers to a third-party reviewer (or panel of reviewers). The reviewer then issues a report outlining a recommended settlement. The opposing parties must vote to accept or reject the fact finder's recommendation "as is" -- that is, without amendments or conditions. If both parties accept, the fact finder's report then becomes the basis of a contract agreement. If either party rejects the report, negotiations must resume.

Fact finder reports online

In Pennsylvania negotiations between school boards and unions, a fact finder's report often provides the publics first opportunity to learn the positions of the two parties on salaries, benefits or other contract terms: what the board is offering and what the union is demanding. It should not be assumed, however, that the report is a reliable guide to positions that either party has taken during closed-door negotiations. That is, either party's "best and final" proposal may differ substantially from its previous offers.

The fact finding process is administered by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PRLB). The PRLB publishes fact finding reports online.[1] The PLRB does an excellent job of posting these reports in a timely manner.

Legislation governing the process

In Pennsylvania public school negotiations, the fact finding process is one of several dispute resolution mechanisms available under Act 88 of 1992. Relevant sections of that law appear below.[2]

Section 1122-A. Fact-finding Panels.-

(a)(1) Once mediation has commenced, it

shall continue for so long as the parties have not reached an agreement. If, however, an agreement has not been reached within forty-five (45) days after mediation has commenced or in no event later than eighty-one (81) days prior to June 30 or December 31, whichever is the end of the school entity’s fiscal year, the Bureau of Mediation shall notify the board of the parties’ failure to reach an agreement and of whether either party has requested the appointment of a fact finding panel.

(2) No later than eighty-one (81) days prior to June 30 or December 31, whichever is the end of the school entity’s fiscal year, either party may request the board to appoint a fact-finding panel. Upon receiving such request, the board shall appoint a fact-finding panel which may consist of either one (1) or three (3) members. The panel so designated or selected shall hold hearings and take oral or written testimony and shall have subpoena power. If, during this time, the parties have not reached an independent agreement, the panel shall make findings of fact and recommendations. The panel shall not find or recommend that the parties accept or adopt an impasse procedure.
(3) The parties may mutually agree to fact-finding, and the board shall appoint a fact-finding panel as provided for in clause (2) at any time except that the parties may not mutually agree to fact-finding during mandated final best-offer arbitration.
(4) The board may implement fact-finding and appoint a panel as provided for in clause (2) at a time other than that mandated in this section, except that fact-finding may not be implemented between the period of notice to strike and the conclusion of a strike or during final best-offer arbitration. If the board chooses not to implement fact-finding prior to a strike, the board shall issue a report to the parties listing the reasons for not implementing fact-finding if either party requests one.
(b) The findings of fact and recommendations shall be sent by registered mail to the board and to both parties not more than forty (40) days after the Bureau of Mediation has notified the board as provided in subsection (a).
(c) Not more than ten (10) days after the findings and recommendations shall have been sent, the parties shall notify the board and each other whether or not they accept the recommendations of the fact-finding panel, and, if they do not, the panel shall publicize its findings of fact and recommendations.
(d) Not less than five (5) days nor more than ten (1O) days after the publication of the findings of fact and recommendations, the parties shall again inform the board and each other whether or not they will accept the recommendations of the fact-finding panel.
(e) The board shall establish, after consulting representatives of employee organizations and of employers, panels of qualified persons broadly representative of the public to serve as members of fact-finding panels. The board shall, within sixty (60) days of the effective date of this act, increase the number of available panels of qualified persons to serve as members of fact finding panels to meet the expanded role of fact-finding as provided for in this act.
(f) The Commonwealth shall pay one-half of the cost of the fact-finding panel; the remaining one-half of the cost shall be divided equally between the parties. The board shall establish rules and regulations under which panels shall operate, including, but not limited to, compensation for panel members.

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