Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service


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Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) is an independent agency of the U.S. government that seeks to prevent or settle disputes between labor unions and management that affect interstate commerce. The FMCS was established by the 1947 Labor-Management Relations Act (61 Stat. 153 [29 U.S.C.A. § 172]), better known as the Taft-Hartley Act. Mediators for the FMCS have no law enforcement authority and must rely on their own persuasive techniques.

The Labor-Management Relations Act requires that parties to a labor contract must file a notice with the FMCS if agreement is not reached within 30 days before a contract termination or reopening date. The FMCS is required by the act to avoid mediation of disputes that would have only a minor effect on interstate commerce. However, in seeking to promote labor peace through the encouragement and development of long-term, stable relationships between labor and management, the FMCS has taken a broad view of its statutory mandate and has involved itself in disputes that have little effect on interstate commerce.

The FMCS provides both mediation and conciliation services. Most of its interventions involve mediation, which is a voluntary, nonbinding form of dispute resolution. A mediator attempts to facilitate an agreement by conducting meetings and coordinating discussions. A mediator may make substantive suggestions as an active participant to help the parties reach a voluntary agreement.

FMCS mediators must be neutral and must have a minimum of seven years' experience in bargaining methods and tactics. Mediators must maintain strict confidentiality of both sides' positions and may be removed for bias or a failure to maintain confidences. The FMCS employs over 200 mediators, who typically handle about 30,000 cases every year.

Conciliation is a different form of dispute resolution. A conciliator acts as a neutral third party, serving as a resource person for both sides. Generally, a conciliator will not participate in any joint meetings between the parties. Instead, a conciliator will present each party's position to the other in separate sessions. The conciliator may also suggest solutions, especially when negotiations have reached a stalemate.

The FMCS will also provide Arbitration support. Arbitration is an informal method of adjudication, in which both parties present their side of the case, and an arbitrator decides who will prevail. Upon the joint request of a union and an employer, the FMCS will help to select arbitrators from a roster of private citizens.

The agency also employs preventive mediation techniques once an agreement is reached. These techniques include the organization of or participation in labor-management committees, which serve as outlets for discussing problems, and the training of labor and management in Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques. This training is often presented through conferences and seminars.

By 2002, the FMCS had developed web technology that provided the public with comprehensive information. More importantly, FMCS has shifted much of the work done by mediators from paper to electronic documents, which are accessible through its web site. It has ambitious plans for making the mediation process an online activity for parties who need dispute-resolution services.

Further readings

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Available online at <www.fmcs.gov> (accessed November 12, 2003).

Newman, William A. 1990."Use of Non-Adjudicative Third-Party Dispute Resolution Methods by Dispute Resolution Agencies of the United States Government." Ohio Northern University Law Review 17.

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <www.gpoaccess.gov/gmanual> (accessed November 10, 1993).

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