OLR Research Report

September 30, 2011




By: Lee R. Hansen, Legislative Analyst II

You asked about the state employee grievance arbitration process, how many cases go to arbitration, and how much the state spends on it.


Grievance arbitration is a process through which unionized state employees can resolve workplace disputes over the application or interpretation of their respective collective bargaining agreements. Although each collective bargaining agreement contains specific rules, in general a grievance moves through the following four steps:

1. the employee submits a written grievance to the supervisor who is first in the chain of command outside the employee's bargaining unit;

2. if the supervisor is unable to resolve the grievance it is submitted to the department or agency head;

3. if it remains unresolved, the employee can appeal to the director of the Office of Labor Relations (OLR); and

4. if OLR is unable to resolve the issue, it can be submitted to an arbitrator who issues a binding decision.

Although OLR does not have exact data on its caseload, it estimates that it typically receives over 2,000 grievances each year. Approximately two-thirds of these cases subsequently file for arbitration, although in order to meet contractually required deadlines, unions often file for arbitration before OLR issues its response to the grievance. OLR currently has over 2,700 grievances filed for arbitration. Even after a grievance is submitted to an arbitrator, negotiations over the grievance continue throughout the arbitration process and often settle before the arbitrator makes a final decision. OLR estimates that arbitrators decided between 100 and 200 cases last year.

When a grievance goes to an arbitrator the state splits the cost for the arbitrator with the grieving employee or his or her union. According to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the budget typically allocates $275,000 for OLR to spend on arbitrators. OLR spent $191,000 on arbitrators in FY 10 and $195,000 in FY 11. All other arbitration-related work was handled in-house by OLR staff.