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Inthis story I want to highlight the use of arbitration. I am no expert in this matter and I share below only based on my own experience. There is a reason that so many large corporate players make us sign fine print that binds us to arbitration. This saves our court system millions of dollars by replacing public judges with private arbitrators who are paid by the organizations involved in the dispute. My discussion here is not a general treatment of the subject, but my specific experience may be instructive to encourage others to look into the dynamics of arbitration hearings for themselves.

In my case I got a great arbitrator. She had integrity, worked thoroughly, and clearly saw through all the false pretenses presented to her by the NYCDOE. That is the first critical step in the process — make sure your lawyer fights to get you the best arbitrator for your case. My lawyer was a master of this, using the NYCDOE’s having terminated my pay to expedite the hearings which then forced the NYCDOE to accept the arbitrator of our choosing. It was summer vacation and the number of available arbitrators was limited and he knew how to play those dynamics like a fiddler in a klezmer band.

To understand arbitration dynamics, start by following the money. Just like most NYCDOE employees who come under attack are silenced because they want to keep their paycheck, arbitrators also receive a paycheck and have to be careful if they want to be welcomed back for subsequent years of service. Arbitrators in 3020-a termination of public school educators are chosen by the union on one side, and the NYCDOE on the other. My arbitrator had not heard administrative cases previously which means that her position is dependent on being chosen by the UFT and the DOE who were opposing sides in all of her other cases and likely most of her cases in the future. In my case, both the UFT and the DOE were opposing me. My very small and not politically powerful (because of numbers) union, the CSA, was left defending me against the odds. We depended on getting an arbitrator who was willing to stand up for what was right at the risk of alienating her employers.

The CSA lawyer was a superhero. I cannot imagine a better lawyer to be represented by. I did a lot of research and considered hiring private counsel — this was my career on the line. The NYCDOE was not just seeking to fire me, but they wanted to revoke my license which would prevent me from working as an educational administrator ever again. I did not take this lightly and I vaguely understood the odds against me based on his warnings of our slim chances for success despite the overwhelming facts on my side.

Each year, each arbitrator has a record: so many wins for the union side and so many wins for the NYCDOE side. If they are to come back the following year, remember, both sides have to agree to their re-hire. So the best arbitrator for a particular case may depend on which cases they have ruled on previously that year — if they have made more rulings on one side of this record, you may be at a disadvantage before the hearing even starts. No one can admit that, and arbitrators are professionals who would lose their license if they did not rule based on the facts. But there is no doubt that their job depends on their maintaining a “fair and balanced” record in employment disputes between the NYCDOE and unions.

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