Section 577. (a) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, commencing July first, nineteen hundred and ninety-six, the parties to any proceeding conducted pursuant to section eleven of chapter one hundred and fifty E of the General Laws, shall be afforded the opportunity to forego the hearings before the labor relations commission referenced therein and choose to have the matter heard by an impartial and qualified arbitrator selected, at the parties' option, pursuant to the procedures established by the board of conciliation and arbitration as provided by chapter one hundred and fifty of the General Laws or through procedures established by the American Arbitration Association. Submission of the matter to arbitration, in lieu of proceedings before the commission, shall occur only with the voluntary, written and notarized consent of all the parties to the proceeding; provided, however, that once such written and notarized consent is submitted to the commission by all parties to the proceeding, the parties shall be obligated to comply with all procedural requirements necessary to bring the matter to arbitration and shall be bound by the decision of the arbitrator to the same extent as a decision of the commission, subject only to the provisions for judicial review by the appeals court as provided in the last paragraph of said section eleven. Failure of a party, who has consented to arbitration, to comply with the procedural requirements necessary to bring the matter to resolution by an arbitrator shall be grounds for entry of a default judgement by the commission and the commission is hereby authorized and directed to establish procedures for determining whether such default judgement is warranted.

(b) The costs of such arbitration shall be borne by the parties to the proceedings in conformity with the rules and regulations established by the board of conciliation arid arbitration or the American Arbitration Association, whichever is applicable. At the time that the commission notifies the parties that it has made a determination that there is probable cause to believe that a practice prohibited by section ten of said chapter one hundred and fifty E has been committed, the commission shall also inform all parties, in writing, of the availability of the arbitration alternatives, shall provide them with a copy of the applicable rules and regulations of the board of conciliation and arbitration and the American Arbitration Association, shall inform the parties that the costs of the arbitration alternative shall be borne by the parties and not the commission, and shall inform the parties that the election to submit the dispute to arbitration, in lieu of a hearing before the commission, can be made at any time up to thirty days prior to commencement of the hearing authorized in the first paragraph of said section eleven.

(c) An arbitrator, selected pursuant to this section, shall have the same authority and responsibilities with respect to such proceedings as the commission has in proceedings conducted under said section eleven. The decision of an arbitrator, pursuant to this section, shall be subject to judicial review as provided in the last paragraph of said section eleven. The arbitrator's decision shall be reviewed by the same standards set forth in said section eleven and shall be subject to the same deference that is afforded decisions of the commission, provided, however, that in the event of a conflict between a decision of an arbitrator and a prior decision of the labor relations commission, the decision of the commission shall be afforded greater deference. The party who initiated the proceedings before the commission pursuant to said section eleven shall file with the commission a copy of the award of the arbitrator, notice of institution of proceedings for judicial review pursuant to said section eleven, and a copy of any decision of the court with respect to the arbitrator's award within ten days of the issuance or filing of such award, appeal or judicial decision.

(d) No later than March thirtieth, nineteen hundred and ninety-seven, the commission shall submit a report to the house and senate committees on ways and means documenting the number of cases in which the parties have elected the arbitration option, the number. of such cases in which an arbitrator's award has issued, the number of such cases in which judicial review of the arbitrator's award has been sought and the number of cases in which the decision of the arbitrator has been affirmed or reversed by the court.