Notes On: Mediation Institutions Adjusting to New Environments: The USCS and FMCS Story

By Barrett, Jerry | Labor Law Journal, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Notes On: Mediation Institutions Adjusting to New Environments: The USCS and FMCS Story


Barrett, Jerry, Labor Law Journal


The D.C. Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) announced that its December 9, 2015 meeting would feature remarks by FMCS Director Allison Beck. The announcement read as follows:

"The pressures of the global economy and the changing nature of work are making labor-management relations more contentious. More states are passing right-to-work legislation. Unions represent fewer and fewer workers in private enterprises. And the growth of the "gig" economy is upsetting customary patterns of labor relations.

"Fortunately, the U.S. has a highly respected agency chartered to assist managers and workers with constructive responses to rapidly changing workplaces. It is the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, or FMCS, led by Allison Beck. One of her first actions after moving from Deputy Director to Director of FMCS was to conduct an unprecedented, in-depth review of the Agency's structure and services. The result has been a more aggressive outreach to the labor-management community using 21st century technology to provide a fresh, broad menu of services and training.

"The Officers and Board of Governors of the Washington, DC, Chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association are privileged to announce that Director Beck will be joining us at our December 9th luncheon meeting to talk about the new FMCS. She will describe the challenges facing 21st century labor-management relations. And she will give us a guided tour through her agency's innovations and progress in meeting the needs of an evolving workplace."

Those of us, who have watched with regret the decline of union representation, collective bargaining and mediation since the 1980s, applaud the efforts of FMCS to adjust to this new disappointing employment environment. As the traditional work of FMCS declined, so did it's utility and it's budget support. Hoping for a return of the golden years of 1960s collective bargaining would be delusional. FMCS and its mediators are change agents who are comfortable urging and assisting others to change. The discomfort and pain of change, the moving away from the comfortable and familiar is very hard even for change agents. FMCS and its mediators have shown themselves to be up to the challenge.

Historically, FMCS has provided three primary services: the main activity of FMCS has always been mediating labor-management disputes. Another primary activity has also been providing arbitrators, from their roster of qualified private arbitrators, for labor and management to use to resolve disputes, primarily grievances. And finally, preventive mediation, mediator activities aimed at improving labor-management relations.

In making these adjustments to this new environment, FMCS is making the kind of adjustments any individual mediator would make when facing a new environment in a labor-management dispute. FMCS is doing the same at the institutional level. Historically, FMCS and its mediators have made adjustments to wage/price controls, the advent of Federal, State and Local government collective bargaining where strikes are prohibited, the lack of strikes during World War 11, the growth of State mediation agencies, the health care amendment in 1974, other changes in the Taft-Hartley Act and other statutory changes.1

Examples of FMCS adjustment to change:

* Increased overseas training work reimbursed by Federal Agencies.

* Reimbursable domestic work for Federal Agencies in U.S.

* Charging for membership on arbitration roster, and getting an arbitrator.

* Requiring mediator applicants to demonstrate presentation skills.

* Establishing the FMCS Training Institute.

* Mediating non-union employment disputes.

* Strongly encouraging initiative by mediators.

The current list of FMCS services posted on the FMCS webpage illustrate how far beyond mediation, training and arbitration FMCS has expanded:

Resolving Labor-Management Disputes Collective Bargaining Mediation

Alternative Bargaining Process

Grievance Mediation

Arbitration

Building Labor-Management Relationships

Effective Contract Administration

Effective Contract Communications

Labor-Management Partnership Building

Organizational Development

Repairing Broken Relationships

ADR for Government

Workplace Mediation

Administrative Program Dispute Facilitation

Dispute Resolution Systems Design

Regulatory Negotiations

Public Policy Dialogues

Education and Outreach

Skill Development Training

FMCS Institute

International

Grants

Conference and Workshops

A Precedent

A precedent for the FMCS expansion of its services when face with changing environment occurred over 70 years ago by the predecessor to FMCS, the United States Conciliation Service (USCS). …

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