The Washington Public Employment Relations Commission (Washington PERC) deployed its decision search engine with the help of Decisia by Lexum. The Washington PERC is the Washington State agency with jurisdiction over public sector labour relations and collective bargaining in the state of Washington. Like many agencies, it renders several types of decisions, which were previously scattered over different sections of its website – some with search capabilities and some without – making them difficult to find. Understanding that providing useful access to its decisions is part of its mandate, and that online access is the only thing that really counts today, the Washington PERC decided to invest some resources (a very reasonable amount in fact) in enhancing the usability of its online decisions.
The new Washington PERC decision website complies with many of the acknowledged best practices for decisions publishing:
Self-publishing of full text decisions
The staff of the Washington PERC has full control over the content of its decision website via a web-based interface. Publishing is not relinquished to any third party commercial publisher that could require some kind of exclusivity in exchange for its input. This enables the online publishing of the most authoritative version of the full text of decisions.
Since the agency is in complete control of the publishing process, it can make its decisions available to its stakeholders as soon as they are rendered. Any error in the body of a decision can be fixed in a matter of minutes by the registry clerks.
The Washington PERC has invested effort in making sure that all of the decisions it has rendered since the mid-1970s are made available on its website, thus turning the site into its historical repository. Thus, serious legal research can be undertaken from the new website without any fear of overlooking material.
The technology used for the Washington PERC decisions website is designed to facilitate access for individuals with disabilities by being compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA of the World Wide Web organization.
Provision of both HTML and PDF versions
Decisions are provided in both HTML and PDF formats. The HTML version enables the provision of advanced search functionalities and highlighting of search hits in the body of decisions. The PDF version preserves the appearance of the original file (a scan copy of the signed version is provided whenever available) and facilitates printing.
The Washington PERC decision website can be browsed (or crawled) by decision date or decision title. This makes the content “discoverable” by both human researchers and web robots operated by third parties interested in reusing the data. A RSS feed also provides a machine readable version of all recently published content.
A powerful search engine supporting Boolean queries, proximity operators and wildcards enables users to undertake advanced searches in the complete body of all decisions. Users also benefit from an auto-completion feature providing quick access links to exact matches and a spell-checker that proposes alternative queries in case of typos or errors.
Multi-criteria search tools
Advanced database search is also facilitated by the availability of eight additional fields that can be queried individually or in conjunction (decision number, date, parties, decision-maker, case type, appeal status, statute and collection).
Finally, each decision is provided a unique medium-neutral citation by the agency itself, for example “Decision 12563-A (PECB, 2016)”. This type of citation enables the identification of individual decisions without referring to any specific publisher.
In the end, all of this should provide positive outcomes on two distinct fronts:
Enhanced access for those directly affected by Washington PERC decisions
Washington State union members, employers and their representatives will undoubtedly be the first to benefit from this enhanced access to decisions concerning public sector labor relations and collective bargaining. Without a doubt, this will make it easier to find out how previous conflicts were resolved, which will make a significant contribution to Washington PERC’s mandate of assisting parties in resolving labour-management disputes.
Consolidation of the field of law under the jurisdiction of the Washington PERC
Whether Washington PERC decisions are considered to be precedential or not, the fact remains that they are the only source of information about past conflicts resolved in this niche area of law. By making sure this information is available in a format consumable by all, the Agency is contributing to the development of the legal field in which it operates while at the same time promoting its competence as a decision-making body. As a consequence, the authoritative status of its decisions is bound to be enhanced over time.
Considering the overall state of online access to administrative decisions, one can only hope that this example will encourage other agencies and ALJs to follow suite and implement adequate decision websites. The Washington PERC is only one agency within one state, but its latest initiative at least has the merit of demonstrating how easy it can be to publish administrative decisions the right way.