The vast majority of neutrals brought in to settle a bargaining impasse, whether they are from FSIP or privately hired by the parties, rarely look at the impasse from what we are labeling the “Angelo Angle.” As a result, they often leave the parties worse off than when they were before, and, sadly, too many think that is not their problem.

Too many interest arbitrators only look at factors external to the parties’ relationship when deciding which contract proposal to impose, e.g., costs, comparability to other contracts, demonstrated need, past practice, etc.  The Angelo Angle positions the arbitrator so that he/she must consider the quality of the parties’ relationship along with the other traditional factors when selecting the language to impose on the parties.  In short, a clause that may be perfectly just under external criteria and work for most parties, might be a disaster in the hands of parties at war.

Not long ago a former FSIP Member, Thomas Angelo, serving as an interest arbitrator, included the following passage in his decision over which of the two parties’ proposal to adopt dealing with official time, contract reopening, and LMR meetings:

It is evident the parties’ bargaining relationship is impaired. Here they are unable to agree on how to go about dealing with one another, casting considerable doubt on whether they even understand how to engage in cooperative labor relations. Responsibility for this state of affairs rests with both parties and it is apparent that, until they improve their approach to labor management relations, simply resolving this dispute will not likely make a substantive difference in their dealings with one another. . . .With regard to the official time dispute, both proposals present potential implementation problems. (AFGE, 2011 FSIP 01)

The union had proposed the following: “Upon the Union’s request for official time, a specified number of hours will be allotted by the mutual agreement of Management and the Union’s Chairpersons.”

We agree with Angelo. Imposing vague contract language on bad relationships does little more than guarantee full employment for more arbitrators.  It certainly does not promote the statutory goal of “the amicable settlements of disputes between employees and their employers involving conditions of employment.” (5 U.S.C. 7101)

The best measure of an impasse neutral is whether he/she pushes the parties into a voluntary deal–even if the neutral has to push very, very hard. However, where that is not possible and the parties are in chronic conflict, neutrals should also look at the case from the Angelo Angle.  Avoid imposing contract provisions that require the agency to give the union “an appropriate amount of office space,” or to the union “adequate notice” of proposed changes in working conditions, or even a “reasonable amount of official time.” Those phrases breed litigation.

It is far better to impose a standard objective measure and to provide that the parties are free by mutual agreement to do something else. For example, a union space clause might read as follows, “The Agency will provide the union at least 250 sq. feet of office space for its exclusive use in each regional office unless they can reach voluntary mutual agreement to do otherwise.” That provides a safe default position should the parties be unable to agree otherwise. It does not leave them heading to arbitration to decide the meaning of a vague term.


Ideally, the Panel would announce its commitment to examine disputes from the Angelo Angle as well. After all, does FSIP do anyone any good if it requires itself to choose the last best offers of two highly contentious parties when the choice is between a clause providing, “The union will be given adequate advance notice of a change.” and “The union will be given advance notice of a change consistent with law.”


Some interest arbitrators labor under the assumption that the parties hired them only for their near-genius ability to weigh competing proposals and decide in a Solomon-like manner which should be adopted. Those that do have an undeveloped sense of their role and potential value. If they can minimize the opportunities for the party to slug it out, they give them time to heal and build trust.


About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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