Newswise — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has adopted new dispute resolution guidelines and contracted with Cornell University to supply mediators versed in the commission's rules as well as employment issues. The priorities are timeliness and safety.
As part of the new working relationship, the Institute on Conflict Resolution, which is based at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, is making available a special group from its nationwide roster of trained neutrals. That group, which is experienced in mediating federal-sector disputes, also will be trained in the rules, regulations and safety issues of concern to the NRC.
Through the NRC's alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program, adopted this August, the neutrals will mediate in employee discrimination complaints where NRC regulations have potentially been violated, and in other allegations of wrongdoing where NRC regulations have apparently been violated. The program aims to promote a safety-conscious work environment by providing a means for prompt and fair resolution of worker complaints and timely and effective resolution of enforcement issues.
The NRC program plans to use ADR techniques in two potential scenarios involving the commission, its licensees and their employees: 1) Before initiation of an NRC investigation -- sometimes called "early ADR" -- when those involved would be the employee and the licensee; and 2) after completion of an investigation, when the parties would be the NRC and the licensee. The aim is to reach settlement within 90 days of agreeing to mediate.
"Cornell's participation will enhance our program for responding to disputes by reassuring both workers and licensees that their complaints or concerns will be considered by a truly neutral person if they choose the early ADR approach," said Frank Congel, director of the NRC's Office of Enforcement.
Rocco Scanza, director for ADR services at the Cornell-based institute, said: "We are pleased that the NRC has chosen to align with us. Their decision demonstrates the growing importance of resolving workplace disputes through mediation and recognizes the exceptional skills of the trained neutrals on our roster. We are justly proud to have been invited to play such a role."
The approach of using third-party neutrals in recent years has been employed with success in such federal agencies as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor, with assistance from the Cornell institute. Advantages include disputes resolved more quickly than in the traditional complaint processes; litigation and other costs lowered; creative solutions developed by the parties themselves, leading to greater satisfaction with the process and the results; and future complaints avoided as parties learn to communicate better with each other.
In 2005 Cornell's Institute on Conflict Resolution plans to roll out the first certificate training program in conflict resolution at the university. Scanza calls it "an important step in Cornell's expanding role as a leader in alternative dispute resolution."
For more information on NRC's ADR program, see: http://www.nrc.gov/what-we-do/regulatory/enforcement.html. For more information on Cornell's ICR, see: http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/icr.