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The history of dispute resolution, mediation and arbitration

Technical Conciliators of the United States Conciliation Service

Charlie Tilton

Bob Donnahoo

Lou Towers

Yates Heafner

Pictured above are Charlie Tilton, Bob Donnahoo, Lou Towers and Yates Heafner, all served as technical conciliators[1]. The U.S. Department of Labor’s United States Conciliation Service (USCS) created a new category of conciliators (mediators), in response to a trend that introduced engineering principals into manufacturing processes, such as “time and motion studies.” When this trend began in 1920s, unions were too weak to resist employers. But with FDR’s New Deal legislation in the 30s, unions gained organizing and collective bargaining rights, which gave them some influence on these practices.[2]

A major part of FDR New Deal legislations was the National Recovery Act (NRA) of 1933, which created a number of governmental units designed to promote economic recovery. One such unit was a small Board, including eight members, tasked with helping employers and employees deal with new engineering trends, which directly impacted employees.

In 1934, when the Supreme Court declared the NRA unconstitutional, all NRA employees were fired, including these eight board members. Since USCS conciliators[3] had found these board members helpful with grievances and collective bargaining on engineering issues, USCS immediately hired the eight and placed them in a newly created Division of Technical Analysis Services (DTAS)[4] in their Washington D.C. national office. The staff was referred to as Technical Conciliators or TCs.

The beginning TC staff of eight soon grew to 15 based on increased demand because conciliators, having become comfortable with their new colleagues during their prior role, requested assistance whenever they faced an engineering issue. In 1937, seeing the successes of DTAS, the new USCS Director John Steelman continued to increase the DTAS staff.

When assigned a case, TCs inspected and studied work-place processes and wrote reports on their findings for the parties to use in negotiations. If asked, TCs would return to the parties to answer questions, and depending on the circumstance, they would mediate, alone or with the assigned conciliator.

As the TC’s became busier, they often persuaded labor and management to do much of the work themselves based on training provided by the TC. In some cases, the parties had worked together so well in completing the study that they were able to achieve a resolution without additional USCS[5] help.

[1] This writer interviewed each of them.

[2] Enhanced public awareness of this practice came 20 years later with the 1950 film based on the 1948 autobiography “Cheaper by the Dozen” by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, two married efficiency engineers with 12 children.

[3] USCS referred to its dispute resolvers as conciliators. Later, FMCS referred to theirs as mediators.

[4] Not to be confused with the FMCS Office of Technical Services (OTS) created in 1973.

[5] When USCS became FMCS on August 22, 1947, the FMCS Director eliminated the Division of Technical Analysis Services because he believed such work should be done by the private sector.


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