PERB Factfinding Reviewed
This study reports the results of a survey carried out by PACE for the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). The purpose of the survey was to assess the effectiveness of the fact-finding mechanism for resolving disputes affecting California's public school employees.
First among the findings, and most important, the overwhelming view of respondents was that the fact-finding process assisted parties in reaching a settlement. This finding held across roles of participants, by geographic region, size of district, and every other dimension surveyed. Not only was the entire fact-finding process viewed as playing a positive role in the collective bargaining process, but each of the components of fact-finding—the hearing, executive session, and issuance of a final report—were all seen by respondents as improving chances for reaching agreement and serving purposes intended by the act. Few respondents reported that fact-finding impeded chances for settlement.
Another indicator of the perception of the role of fact-finding was the relatively small number of respondents who offered recommendations for altering the current process. There is little indication that these participants in the fact-finding process believe that it should be altered, and even less indication that there is consensus about which alterations, if any, would be appropriate. However, a sufficient proportion of respondents cited time delays as a problem to warrant additional review by PERB.
Second, in response to the question regarding the reasons fact-finding was initiated in their respective cases, neutrals, employees, and employers all rated characteristics of the parties involved as the number one reason. These characteristics included intransigence, distrust, bad faith, incompetence, personality conflicts, and interpersonal relations. In addition, when listing major obstacles to fact-finding, respondents cited the approach of the parties as the number one obstacle. It is obvious that the parties, especially the neutrals, perceived party attitudinal problems as a major problem in arriving at a mutually acceptable settlement. This finding is not surprising given the fact that fact-finding is a process utilized by parties who have exhausted other alternatives. PERB may wish to consider disseminating information to participants regarding examples of districts in which parties have taken positive steps to mitigate negative behavior.
The third major finding relates to the roles of the participants involved in the process. Neutrals tended to rate other participants as effective; very few neutrals assigned low ratings to the employee/employer participants. However, while the parties also generally rated neutrals positively, one in four rated them as relatively ineffective. In addition, "problems with the neutral" was mentioned by several respondents as an obstacle faced in the fact-finding process. These findings suggest that the quality of neutrals deserves attention by PERB and that PERB should consider ways in which the effectiveness of the neutral chairpersons could be improved.