Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The FCMS Contribution to Nonlabor Dispute Resolution

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The FCMS Contribution to Nonlabor Dispute Resolution

Article excerpt

Four formal procedures--litigation, arbitration , negotiation, and mediation--are commonly used for the legitimate resolution of disputes between individuals or groups. In litigation and arbitration, a third party is empowered to decide the issue in question. Negotiation has the advantage of allowing the parties to participate fully in developing a solution with which each can live. Mediation blends the advantages of the other three methods, employing an objective third party, but leaving the decision on the outcome to those who must abide by it.

Since its establishment in 1947, the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), the oldest and largest mediation agency in the world, has acquired considerable expertise through the resolution of labor-management disputes. During the past two decades, the Service increasingly shared its skills by helping to resolve disputes outside the private-sector industrial relations arena. This article reviews the recent contributions of the Service to problem resolution in nontraditional areas. The discussion is based on FMCS documents, interviews with mediators and recipients of Service assistance, and the author's own experience as former head of the stafff involved in the expanded scope.

Testing new waters

Prior to the appointment of William Simkin as director of the FMCS in 1961, the Service had not worked beyond its legislative mandate in private-sector labor-management relations. The emergence of public employee unionism in the 1960's changed this.

Although the Service lacked legislative authority to handle disputes between public employees and their employers, no other organization wasa available in most instances to provide assistance. In response to public pressure and the urgent requests of the parties, the Service began providing mediation on a case-by-case basis. Because many of these public employee disputes in large cities were civil rights disputes as well, the Service was drawn further afield from its usual work into new and unfamiliar areas.

J. Curtus Counts, who followed Simkin as FMCS director in 1969, continued the policy of ad hoc mediation of public employee disputes, but otherwise made no changes in the mission of the Service. However, the appointment of William Usery to the post in July 1973 ushered in what was to be a major growth period for the agency. By strongly urging an expanded role for the Service, Usery persuaded the Administration and the Congress to increase his staff and budget accordingly.

In 1973, Usery's plans for the Service led him to create the Office of Technical Services within the agency's national office. This office was to coordinate and promote technical assistance cases, conduct an improved professional development program for the mediators, provide a technical information and research function to assist the field mediator, and experiment with new uses of mediation. During the 4 years of its existence, the office was the focal point of an increasing amount of non-labor-relations work within the Service.

In early 1974, Usery convened a 3-day meeting of all Service managers to discuss the agency's role. The major result was the adoption of a five-part mission statement. While four parts specifically referred to labor-mangement relations, the fifth envisioned an expanded role in "[d]eveloping the art, science and practice of dispute resolution." This mission statement remains in effect today.

During the oil crisis in 1974, Director Usery personally became involved in some non-labor-relations disputes between independent truckers and oil companies, and between independent gas station operators and the oil companies. In the same year, the Service undertook what is probably the most noteworthy example of nontraditional mediation, the settlement of a longstanding dispute between two Indian tribes.

The Hopi-Navajo dispute. Geographically the largest Indian reservation in the United State, covering 2-1/2 million acres in northeastern Arizon, the Hopi-Navajo reservation had been created by executive order in 1882. …

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