Okay—we admit it. This is a trick question. An arbitrator is not on either side. The arbitrator is truly impartial and comes to a dispute ready to rule for either party. He or she will be guided to a decision grounded in the facts of the case and the contract in dispute. Parties almost always mutually choose the person or persons who is be the arbitrator based on her or his reputation for impartiality and fairness. The parties must mutually agree on the arbitrator.

In choosing an arbitrator the parties may directly contact the arbitrator. If they cannot agree, there are several administrative agencies, both public and private, that maintain lists or rosters of arbitrators. In labor-management arbitration the main agencies are the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), the American Arbitration Association (AAA) and the National Mediation Board (NMB). Many states have agencies that also provide lists of possible arbitrators from which the parties can choose. Lists usually contain five or seven names (or any odd number). If the parties cannot agree on a name, they alternately strike names until only one arbitrator is left to serve.

To serve as an arbitrator on the FMCS, NMB, or AAA labor panels (for collective bargaining disputes), the arbitrator must be neutral in affiliation, meaning that she or he cannot represent management or labor in matters of collective bargaining. In this and other respects these administrative organizations along with the National Academy of Arbitrators are signatories to the “Code of Professional Responsibility for Arbitrators of Labor-Management Disputes.”

As a matter of clarity, the National Academy of Arbitrators does not provide lists of arbitrators to parties or in any other way market arbitrators. It is an organization with the purpose of creating professional standards and providing continuing education for its members and arbitration advocates. Its website contains alphabetic and geographic listings of member names.