William Ellison Chalmers.

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tiations frec|uently bog down because of misunderstandings. These
may be as simple as the result of faulty speech or hearing. They


are more Hkel}- to result from a too limited knowledge of the eco-
nomic facts in the dispute. These facts may relate to wage rates
and wage relationships within the plant, or between plants, or to
more complicated problems of production, organization, or human
welfare. Whatever they may be, they need to be pretty well under-
stood before the parties can form their own bargaining adjustments
to them.

Help the Parties Find the Area of Agreement. Even in a
dispute in which only one issue is formally expressed, elements of
the issue w^ill have different values for each of the negotiators. If
a deadlock is developing it is the job of the conciliator to help the
parties balance off these interests by a compromise that saves
the most possible for each. When several issues are in dispute, the
balance is more complicated, but may be achieved more easily.

Do Not Undercut Negotiators. The representatives at the
bargaining table, in almost all cases, have been given powder to
represent their group. If the conciliator seeks to displace them, he
is defeating the long-run objective of voluntary choice by the
groups for the sake of short-run success at the bargaining table.
It is his responsibility to work with the groups as they appear at
the bargaining table.

Encourage Participation of More Responsible Agents. With-
out trying to readjust the power structure of either side, the con-
ciliator may find it desirable to try to bring more responsible agents
into the bargaining process. In general, the bargaining process
should be conducted on each side by executives who have the power
and are able to make commitments during the course of negotia-
tions. The process must include a mutual study of the problems of
the other side. Such a study must be done by those responsible for
decisions. Bargaining is also a process of compromise that equally
needs the participation of those with authority. The conciliator
needs to make sure that enough authority is available on either side
to reach compromises and settlement when the opportunity presents
itself. On the other hand, the conciliator must be extremely careful
not to bring in additional bargainers if the present negotiator will
resent the move.


Other Considerations

In addition to these seven basic guides, there are two others
that need to be considered. They represent additional aspects of the
bargaining problem beyond the fact that signatures need to be at-
tached to a formal document. They are important because they con-
tribute to successful collective bargaining. But they should not be
permitted to interfere with the immediate objective of industrial

Help Make Terms as Workable as Possible. As the parties
are negotiating toward an agreement they may well be considering
terms that are new to them. If agreement can be reached on these
terms, but they are likely to give rise to future and more serious
frictions, they should be modified during the negotiations if pos-
sible. In any such effort the conciliator needs to remember that the
first goal is immediate agreement and that future actions of the
parties are difficult to predict.

Seek Understanding of Terms. In many cases future serious
disputes would have been avoided if the parties signing a formal
document had understood more fully how the other party inter-
preted the words of the document. Within the limits suggested
above, the conciliator frequently can contribute to the prospects of
future peace by making sure that there is a common understanding
and agreement on the meaning of the clauses being recorded.


The conciliation process usually follows a fairly standard pro-
cedure. Circumstances of each case will determine how the
procedure is applied.

(1) The conciliator usually enters, at the request of one or
both parties. His first contact will be with the requesting party.
Since, under most economic circumstances, the union is the party
initiating the pressure for change, the conciliator most frecjuently
begins by responding to a union request. Occasionally he enters on
the basis of a joint request. Such a request has the considerable
advantage to the conciliators and the parties of establishing with-
out question the impartial approach expected of him. It also repre-


sents their agreement that his serxices are welcome and will he
acceptable to both.

(2) He meets separately with each. These preliminary con-
ferences are held at an early stage of the conciliator's participation
but not necessarily before the first joint session. They have three
objectives: (a) to establish a confidential relationship between the
conciliator and each party; (b) to provide a preliminary back-
ground explanation of the nature of the dispute; and (c) to seek
out the areas in w^hich it will be most helpful to resume the nego-
tiations. Such explorations are more or less extensive depending on
how much is necessary to accomplish these goals.

(3) He brings the parties into a joint conference. When
necessary, it is his decision on the time when a session would be
most strategic and its location.

(4) He guides the bargaining procedures. The conciliator
will chair the sessions, maintain order, recess and reconvene the ses-
sions, agree on the agenda, the order and the manner of presenta-
tion, and stimulate the negotiations when they lag or bring them
back to the subject when it seems appropriate. Obviously, his direc-
tion of this process is as limited and as subtle as possible.

Conducting Joint Conferences

(5) In the recesses between joint bargaining" sessions, he
conducts separate conferences with each. In these sessions he ex-
plores what lies behind the position of each side much more
intimately than is possible in the joint session. Here, he seeks (a) to
analyze with each what are the real issues and how vigorously each
side is determined to maintain its position, (b) to clear up misun-
derstandings, and (c) to seek out compromise alternatives.

(6) Wherever the occasion permits, the conciliator will
urge the parties to resume negotiations without him. Such a sug-
gestion may be made at any time during the course of the bargain-
ing. It should be made when the conciliator feels that such a pro-
cedure has any hope of succeeding.

(7) The conciliator suggests the consideration of alterna-
tive solutions. Up to this point, usually, he has chaired the meetings
and separately explored their problems, but has not tried to influ-
ence the actual joint negotiations. Where it appears necessary,


however, the conciliator may move on to present several alternative
compromise solutions. These are designed (a) to "get them talking
again" by shifting their consideration to different alternatives,
(b) to develop from additional discussions the drives which have
not been adequately understood, and (c) to develop the feeling
that some kind of a compromise needs to be sought.

(8j He seeks participation of the superiors of one or both
parties. As indicated above, this is done when the participant
(a) has not sufficient authority and prestige to settle or (b) is
taking what appears to the conciliator as too limited and short-
sighted a view of his own interests and problems. It is done,
usually, by adding the superior to the bargaining group rather than
by replacing the original participant.

Suggesting Alternative Steps

(9) He may suggest alternative procedural steps. If the
negotiations appear to be too seriously deadlocked, if the problems
are serious enough, and the timing makes it necessary, the con-
ciliator may suggest one or another alternative procedural steps.
This may simply be the postponement of a deadline to permit time
for further negotiations or for the participation of some additional
representatives or for some outside event to happen that will influ-
ence the attitude of the parties. He may suggest a factual investiga-
tion before negotiations are resumed. Or the suggestion may be
for a change of location. Or it may be to refer specific issues to
arbitration. Or, in accordance with the Taft-Hartley Law, it may be
the formal recommendation that the employer's last offer be sub-
mitted to a vote of the employees.

(10) In a rare case there may be a final^ procedural step of
recommending to both parties the specific terms for a settlement.
Since this is a conciliation and not an arbitration process, such a
recommendation is not really the independent judgment of the
conciliator as to what "ought" to be the settlement, but is rather

' The procedural steps here considered are Hmited to those usually followed, to
the extent the circumstances require, by a single conciliator. This paper makes no
attempt to analyze the successful experiments with additional procedural devices
beyond the single conciliator, including the addition of a second or a third com-
missioner, the assignment of an additional conciliation specialist, the change of
location to a regional office or to Washington, the use of a tripartite mediation
panel or of a fact-finding board.


the basis on which he beUeves agreement is most likely. To assure
himself of this in advance, he will hold separate discussions with
each party in advance and make the proposal only after it has been
worked out as probably acceptable to both. In most cases of this
kind, such a recommendation is merely a device for "saving the
face" or saving the bargaining position of each side because the
conciliator places on the table what each side is prepared to accept
but not to originate or sponsor.


This analysis has considered the role of conciliation in the col-
lective bargaining process. Whenever labor and management have
difficulty in reaching an agreement peacefully, the government con-
ciliation services are available and on call. As this function is better
understood it can be more w'idely and wisely used to the advantage
of the parties themselves. Beyond that it represents the most im-
portant single device used by the government to assure ( 1 ) peace-
ful industrial relations and at the same time (2) the preservation
of voluntary and democratic processes in industry.


Online LibraryWilliam Ellison ChalmersThe conciliation process (Volume BEBR Faculty Working Paper v.2 no.2) → online text (page 2 of 2)