In our last post, we mentioned that mediation is just not always successful. There are, of course, various reasons why mediation can and does fail. In some cases, failed mediation efforts can be a good thing, particularly when the only possible way to resolve the issue in mediation is for one side to agree to less than satisfactory terms.
Out in Pittsburgh, the seeming futility of mediation is on display in an ongoing dispute between the Peters Township School District and the teachers’ union. Teachers have apparently been without a contract in the district since the end of August, and are unable to come to an agreement with the district on certain terms. As of last Friday, the teachers had been on strike for nine days.
The primary issues in the dispute are salary increases, workday length and class sizes. Few details are provided about the exact terms of the dispute. What is clear, though, is that little has been accomplished thus far in talks between the union and the school district. If the dispute continues unresolved, the strike could run through nearly the end of the month, which would be a significant disruption to the school year.
As we’ve noted in previous posts, mediation is rarely successful in the absence of a negotiation process by which parties learn to see beyond their specific goals to their underlying interests and to consider alternative ways to satisfy those interests which are acceptable to the other side. In some cases, of course, certain terms are very difficult to negotiate on, and may serve as “deal-breakers.” Each case is different. A skilled mediator knows how to make the best of a case and put parties in the best possible position to resolve the dispute in a mutually satisfactory way. A skilled mediator also knows the limits of mediation and when mediation may not be the best way to resolve a particular dispute.