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National Academy of Arbitrators; Analysis to Aid Public Comment

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Federal Trade Commission.

ACTION:

Proposed consent agreement.

SUMMARY:

The consent agreement in this matter settles alleged violations of federal law prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition. The attached Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes both the allegations in the draft complaint that accompanies the consent agreement and the terms of the consent order—embodied in the consent agreement—that would settle these allegations.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before January 2, 2003.

ADDRESSES:

Comments filed in paper form should be directed to: FTC/Office of the Secretary, Room 159-H, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580. Comments filed in electronic form should be directed to: consentagreement@ftc.gov, as prescribed below.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

L. Barry Costilo, FTC, Bureau of Competition, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580, (202) 326-2024.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Pursuant to Section 6(f) of the Federal Trade Start Printed Page 75856Commission Act, 38 Stat. 721, 15 U.S.C. 46(f), and Section 2.34 of the Commission's Rules of Practice, 16 CFR 2.34, notice is hereby given that the above-captioned consent agreement containing a consent order to cease and desist, having been filed with and accepted, subject to final approval, by the Commission, has been placed on the public record for a period of thirty (30) days. The following Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes the terms of the consent agreement, and the allegations in the complaint. An electronic copy of the full text of the consent agreement package can be obtained from the FTC Home Page (for December 3, 2002), on the World Wide Web, at http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​2002/​12/​index.htm. A paper copy can be obtained from the FTC Public Reference Room, Room 130-H, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580, either in person or by calling (202) 326-2222.

Public comments are invited, and may be filed with the Commission in either paper or electronic form. Comments filed in paper form should be directed to: FTC/Office of the Secretary, Room 159-H, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580. If a comment contains nonpublic information, it must be filed in paper form, and the first page of the documents must be clearly labeled “confidential.” Comments that do not contain any nonpublic information may instead be filed in electronic form (in ASCII format, WordPerfect, or Microsoft Word) as part of or as an attachment to email messages directed to the following email box: consentagreement@ftc.gov. Such comments will be considered by the Commission and will be available for inspection and copying at its principal office in accordance with Section 4.9(b)(6)(ii) of the Commission's Rules of Practice, 16 CFR 4.9(b)(6)(ii)).

Analysis of Proposed Consent Order to Aid Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission has accepted an agreement to a proposed consent order from the National Academy of Arbitrators (“NAA”). NAA has its principal place of business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for thirty (30) days for reception of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After thirty (30) days, the Commission will again review the agreement and the comments received, and decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement or make final the agreement's proposed order.

NAA is an honorary association for labor-management arbitrators. Labor-management arbitrators hear and decide disputes between labor unions and employers. The complaint alleges that NAA engages in substantial activities for the economic benefit of its members. The complaint further alleges that NAA has approximately 600 members, many of whom arbitrate labor-management disputes for a fee.

The complaint charges that NAA has violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by acting as a combination of its members and in agreement with some of its members to retrain competition by restricting advertising and solicitation by its members. The complaint alleges that in furtherance of the combination and agreement NAA has adopted and maintained a Code of Professional Responsibility for Arbitrators of Labor-Management Disputes and Formal Advisory Opinions that restrain arbitrators from engaging in truthful, non-deceptive advertising and solicitation, regardless of whether such advertising or solicitation compromises or appears to compromise the impartiality of Arbitrators. The Code of Professional Responsibility states:

An arbitrator must not solicit arbitration assignments. * * * Solicitation, as prohibited by this section, includes the making of requests for arbitration work through personal contacts with individual parties, orally or in writing.

In addition to prohibiting solicitation, the previous version of the Code prohibited virtually all advertising. The advertising restriction was recently amended to restrict only false and misleading advertising. However, NAA's Formal Advisory Opinions, which serve as official interpretations of the Code, often do not draw a distinction between advertising and solicitation and continue to restrict members from distributing truthful information. For example, Opinion 14 deems an arbitrator's unsolicited mailing to both labor and management representatives that contains truthful biographical information to be a violation of NAA's ethics provisions on advertising and solicitation. Opinion 16 concludes that it is unethical solicitation and advertising for an arbitrator to send out announcements of the change of address of his office, which include his resume (including the fact that he is a lawyer) and state his fee schedule. Opinion 18 declares it unethical for an arbitrator to “distribute his business cards, except on request, to potential clients.” And Opinion 19 holds that an arbitrator who gives potential clients ball point pens to inform them of his change of address runs afoul of the proscriptions on advertising and solicitation. Given these Formal Advisory Opinions, the narrowing of the advertising restrictions in the Code to false and misleading advertising does not eliminate competitive concerns.

The complaint alleges that the above acts and practices constitute unfair methods of competition which have restrained competition unreasonably. It further alleges that the effects of the acts and practices are to injure consumers by depriving consumers of the services of labor-management arbitrators of the benefits of truthful, non-deceptive information and of free and open competition among arbitrators.

NAA has signed a consent agreement containing the proposed consent order. The proposed consent order would prohibit NAA from maintaining or enforcing any policy, ethics rule, interpretation or guideline that impedes or restricts arbitrators from engaging in advertising truthful information about their services, including the prices, terms and conditions of sale of their services. The proposed consent order would also prohibit NAA from maintaining or enforcing any policy, ethics rule, interpretation or guideline against solicitation of arbitration work. The order permits NAA to adopt and promulgate reasonable ethics guidelines governing the conduct of its members with respect to representations that NAA reasonably believes would be false or deceptive or governing conduct that NAA reasonably believes would compromise or appear to compromise the impartiality of arbitrators.

To ensure and monitor compliance, the consent order provides, among other things, that within certain time frames NAA shall remove the provisions that are inconsistent with the order from NAA's Code of Professional Responsibility for Arbitrators of Labor-Management Disputes, NAA's Advisory Opinions, any NAA policy statement or guideline and NAA's website. The order requires NAA to publish a copy of the order and complaint in its newsletter. It further provides that the order and complaint shall be published on the NAA web site, with a link placed in a prominent position on the web site's home page. The proposed consent order also contains other provisions to monitor compliance.

The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the proposed order, and it is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of Start Printed Page 75857the agreement and proposed order or to modify in any way their terms.

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By director of the Commission.

Donald S. Clark,

Secretary.

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[FR Doc. 02-31143 Filed 12-9-02; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 6750-01-M