Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Federal Sector Mediation and Labor Management Relations Process: The Federal Sector Management Experience

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Federal Sector Mediation and Labor Management Relations Process: The Federal Sector Management Experience

Article excerpt

The Federal Sector Mediation and Labor Management Relations Process: The Federal Sector Management Experience

The investigative scope of this article centers on the critical point of time in collective bargaining negotiations in the federal sector at which an impasse is reached and a mediator is summoned. Standing at the critical point in time, an analytic look can be taken backward at the difficulties of Federal sector negotiators and forward at the related difficulties of mediators. A brief historical review of the Federal sector's labor-management relations is provided here to emphasize the profound changes established by the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) in 1978.

Unionism has traditionally not been a part of labor-management relations in the Federal government, except for some craft unions in Navy yards. The first authority for unionized collective bargaining was President Kennedy's Executive Order 10988 in 1962. At that time the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) did not become involved in deadlocks at Federal bargaining tables because of the negative fact that its participation was not specifically authorized by the Executive Order.

Despite that lack of authority, requests by Federal agencies and unions for the assistance of FMCS induced it to offer its service, beginning in 1965, on an experimental basis, giving it some familiarity with the problems of mediation in the Federal sector in contrast with the very different bargaining environment in the private sector.

In 1970 President Nixon's Executive Order 11491 authorized FMCS to "provide services and assistance to federal agencies and labor organizations in the resolution of negotiation disputes," with FMCS to determine the circumstances in which it would offer its service and its manner of performing it. FMCS was concerned that, because of its manpower and budget limitations, care be taken not to impede its long established responsibility to served the private sector.

The above described provisions of Nixon's Executive Order were incorporated in Section 7119, Title VII, of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978, thereby transferring authority over FMCS from the President to Congress.

The title of FMCS is derived from two Latin words: mediare, to be in the middle, and conciliare, to draw together or unite. The simple function of FMCS is to step in between two groups which are, for any reason, at odds with each other and may benefit from a third party's "good offices" in assisting them in resolving their differences. The service is purely advisory, a mediator not having an arbitrator's authority to impose a decision on the parties, and therefore, in theory, parties in a dispute should not fear a mediator. In practice, however, the situation is more complicated. For example, it is customary for a mediator to discuss each party's negotiating objectives privately with it, and a party may lack assurance that the mediator will not divulge that information to the other party. Management may distrust a mediator by reasoning that most changes involved in labor-management disputes are proposed by unions and therefore any progress toward a settlement which a mediator induces will favor the union, while, on the other side of the coin, this writer was told by a Federal manager who was formerly a union member that his union taught its members to distrust mediators. Although the badge which admits a mediator to a collective bargaining table is his strict professional neutrality, it is not enough that he be neutral; what is vital is that the negotiators be confident that he is neutral.

FMCS handles only Federal cases in which collective bargaining is stalemated, and at the request of one or both parties, although it may informally assist parties, prior to that point, who think it may be of some assistance.

CSRA stipulates that, when a mediator determines that his attempt to bring the parties to a settlement is fruitless, he shall so notify the parties, either of whom may then invoke the services of the Federal Service Impasse Panel (FSIP), a fact-finding agency with authority to impose a decision on the deadlocked parties. …

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