Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

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FEDERAL MEDIATION AND CONCILIATION SERVICE. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) was created by the National Labor Relations Act of 1947 (better known as the Taft-Hartley Act) as an independent agency to preserve labor-management peace. The law was a response to the intense labor unrest that followed World War II. Intended primarily to reduce confrontational labor relations, the act also removed labor mediation from the Department of Labor.

The FMCS was granted less power than its predecessor. Intervention was limited to disputes affecting interstate commerce, which eliminated most state and local disputes. Railroad and airline disputes were also out of its purview.

President Harry S. Truman chose experienced labor relations expert Cyrus Ching, a Republican, as first FMCS director. The service handled 15,273 disputes and 1,296 strikes in its first year. Ching instituted Preventive Mediation (PM), a long-term program whereby mediators worked with unions and companies to improve human relations and contract administration.

During the Eisenhower administration, Director David Cole, an unconfirmed Truman holdover, was pressured by Congress to make political appointments to the mediator corps. He refused and set a precedent for non-partisan appointment of mediation personnel. In 1955 Joseph Finnegan was appointed director of FMCS; he viewed the FMCS primarily as a mediation body, not a labor relations policy leader. Finnegan focused on broadening the PM program.

Director William Simkin (1961–1969) collaborated with the secretaries of labor and handled many labor disputes himself. He also developed a corps of mediator "paratroopers" to respond quickly to crises.

During the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, Secretary of Labor George Shultz asserted his authority. When Shultz left the department in 1970, Assistant Secretary W. J. Usery, a savvy mediator with roots in the labor movement, began to function as the labor adviser. Usery was named FMCS director in 1973 and served until 1976. Usery reinvigorated the agency, expanding its budget and staff and moving it out of the Labor Department's headquarters.

An unusually large number of labor disputes during the administration of James Earl Carter and the continued broadening of the FMCS's role put greater demands on a limited staff and budget. Director Wayne Horvitz (1977–1981) established an Office of Special Services; he also reached an understanding with Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall under which the FMCS retained preeminence in dispute intervention while emphasizing promotion of cooperative labor relations.

Throughout the 1970s the FMCS scope expanded. The Health Care Amendments of 1974 gave the service more authority to handle labor disputes in the rapidly growing health-care field. The agency's leadership pushed the FMCS's legal boundaries by providing mediation services in increasingly unionized state and local governments. The service began to mediate cases under the Age Discrimination Act. This was the beginning of FMCS's application of labor relations processes to the nontraditional mediating approach that eventually became known as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

The Reagan administration ordered large budget cuts, slashing the staff by 27 percent. Nevertheless, the FMCS managed to expand its ADR role through involvement in the regulatory negotiations process whereby federal agencies and interested parties jointly developed new regulations in a nonadversarial way.

During the administrations of George H. W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush, the service recovered and maintained its stature. The Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1990 gave the FMCS broad responsibilities to apply ADR principles to a widened range of public disputes. In implementing Clinton's National Performance Review of federal programs, the FMCS applied private-sector management principles to its user services. With the end of the Cold War and the increasing integration of the world economy, foreign countries frequently consulted the FMCS on dispute settlement.


Barrett, Jerome T. The FMCS at Age 40. Falls Church, Va.: Friends of FMCS, 1987. Friends of FMCS maintains a private archive and produces historical research on the agency.

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, 1947–1997. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1997. A brief in house history that is lavishly illustrated.

United States. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Annual Report. Washington, D.C: Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, 1949–.


See alsoConciliation and Mediation, Labor ; Labor, Department of .

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

views updated May 29 2018


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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