Hotelies and ILR students see arbitration come to life in NYC

Guest post by Apriele Minott, ILR ’18

By: Katelyn Godoy
Photo of Hotel and ILR students at a real arbitration in New York City

With support from the Cornell Institute for Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations, students from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) traveled to New York City in November to observe an actual arbitration hearing.

Being a student in the school of Industrial and Labor Relations, the term arbitration appears quite frequently in my course studies. What is an arbitration? Why would one go to arbitration? Is arbitration good or bad for the employer? The employee? The concept is an important one, and professors make it a point to incorporate readings, cases, and simulations into their courses to make sure we fully understand it. Yet, can we fully understand something that we have not been a part of? That all changed when I took the course Labor Relations in the Hospitality Industry with professors David Sherwyn and Richard Hurd. Through their course, we not only studied and read about the arbitration process, we were able to sit in on an actual arbitration and see how all those concepts come together.

Before we entered the Office of the Impartial Chairpersons, I did not know what to expect. In my mind, an arbitration seemed like a boring process where attorneys would debate for hours over minute details of time or pay. That is what the articles seemed to portray in our readings. So I was preparing myself for an uninteresting event. However, I was completely wrong.

Once we were all seated and the arbitrator introduced himself, he explained what he knew about the case at the time, which seemed to be little. He explained that the case was for theft of time and falsification of documents, but that was all he knew. With the little bit of information given, it made the case seem a little more interesting, but I was still hesitant on the procedure and its interest. But once the attorneys came into the room, the arbitration came to life.

The attorneys each stated their opening statements, discussing their side and why the opposite side was in the wrong. It was amazing how the case of a female housekeeper who marked her time incorrectly on a missed punch sheet became such a spectacle to watch. Was it wrong that she put the incorrect time? Did she know what she was doing? Did she know that one act would result in her termination? There were so many questions I wanted to ask as the attorneys opened up the case.

After the opening statements, the attorneys left the room to deliberate, and the arbitrator explained the case a little bit more and described his position. The class was engaged and excited to see what the outcome of the case would be. However, our excitement was cut short as the attorneys ultimately agreed to a confidential settlement during their deliberation, closing the case.

We then learned that majority of arbitration cases end up in a settlement. Why is this the case?

  1. If the case goes through arbitration, it becomes a public entity, making it hard for the employee to find work in the industry because of the incident.
  2. No one knows how the arbitrator would react to the case.

It is up to their discretion to decide how the case goes, and those are odds that many people do not want to risk, whether you are the employee or employer. So ultimately, a settlement is agreed upon between the two parties.

Though the class was disappointed that we were unable to view the entire arbitration process, the attorneys agreed to come back in and simulate a ‘mock’ arbitration, describing to us what would have happened had they not settled. The ‘mock’ arbitration was very engaging and participatory, as students were allowed to ask questions and make up different scenarios that could have occurred and asked how the attorneys would respond.

Although we were unable to witness the entirety of an arbitration, we were able to learn first-hand the process and ask questions of those who were real participants in an arbitration. This class enhanced our educational experience by not just incorporating readings and simulations into our studies to help us learn about arbitration, but by giving us a first-hand experience to the process! An experience I will never forget!