(Guest Contributor) You’ve taken your grievance through the contractual process without resolving it, and have now scheduled an arbitration on the matter.  How should your prepare? Is there a way to ensure that you’re ready for the hearing when the day approaches?

There are five basic items that should be ready prior to the start of the hearing – 1) Issue Statement; 2) Exhibits; 3) Direct Examinations; 4) Cross Examinations; and 5) Opening Statement.  When you’ve completed each of these items, you can be assured that you’re ready for the arbitration.  Let’s briefly run through each of them.

Issue Statement

The issue statement is a concise formulation of the question(s) to be answered by the arbitrator in making his or her decision.  For example:

Did the Agency violate Article 23, Section 4 of the contract when it . . .?  If so, what is the remedy?

Simply put, a well formed issue statement is an effective way to ensure that the arbitrator focuses on the issues you want answered.  Conversely, a failure to give the arbitrator an issue statement opens the door to a decision that fails to address the areas of most concern to you.  The statement need not be a single question.  If your grievance alleged a violation of multiple contract provisions, or multiple unfair labor practices, you can separate those allegations into different questions.

Some contracts require the parties to attempt to agree on an issue statement.  Regardless of the contractual requirements, though, it can be useful to at least attempt to engage the Agency on an agreed issue statement.  If that fails, however, you should still give the arbitrator your version of the issue – it’s the Union’s grievance (most of the time), and the arbitrator will likely pay attention to the Union’s formulation of the question.


This item is fairly self-explanatory.  Make sure to have at least four copies of each document you either intend to use, or might use, ready for the hearing – one each for the arbitrator, the Agency representative, the witness, and yourself.  If there is a court reporter, you should have an additional copy for them as well.

Many of the items could be joint exhibits – for instance, the collective bargaining agreement, the grievance documents, etc.  The arbitrator will be grateful if the parties can agree on these joint exhibits ahead of time.

Direct Examinations

As you prepare for the arbitration, you should be speaking with potential witnesses regularly.  It’s a good idea to draft a list of questions you intend to ask together with the testimony you hope to elicit.  This way during the hearing, you can cross off each question as the witness testifies and separately whether the witness gave each element of the answer you and s/he planned to provide – simply pay attention to whether the witness has actually answered the question the way you expected.

Cross Examinations

I’ve often seen representatives fail to prepare for cross examination, assuming that Agency witnesses are going to testify as to their side of the story and leaving it at that.  But why?  The ability to ask leading questions is a great opportunity to get Agency witnesses to confirm points that you made during direct examination and in exhibits.  Think about what each witness is likely to testify about, and whether there are points that you think they can confirm for your case.  Remember that the arbitrator, in evaluating the evidence he or she has heard, will place more weight on any identical testimony that both Union and Agency witnesses have provided.

Opening Statement

The opening statement is an opportunity to describe the grievance, to highlight the evidence you intend to introduce, and how that evidence proves your case.  A good opening statement does not depend on great oratory skills.  What it does is provide a framework for the arbitrator, together with key evidence s/he will use to decide the case.  If you’ve provided that framework for the arbitrator effectively, s/he will both look for and note when the evidence you’ve highlighted has been introduced during the hearing.  Indeed, you should provide a copy of the statement to the arbitrator before you begin so that they can follow along.  Most arbitrators will appreciate the gesture.

(The author is an attorney in Washington, DC, formerly with the National Treasury Employees Union. However, as with all FEDSMILL postings, nothing we say should be treated as legal advice. Check with a competent attorney on the union staff or that you hire for that.)

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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