During a Bureau of Mediation Services overview, Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL-Columbia Heights) announced her intent to introduce a bill that would reinstate the Office of Dispute Resolution.
Although the office dissolved after its funding was cut in 2003, its “demand didn’t go away,” she told other members of the House Labor, Workplace and Regulated Industries Committee.
If Laine is successful in having it reinstated, BMS Commissioner Josh Tilsen has agreed to oversee the office.
The bureau promotes constructive labor-management relations involving state employees, such as teachers and collective bargaining units. It also maintains a list of professional arbitrators, should disputes rise to litigation levels. Potential appropriations for the new office would fund grants for non-profit organizations that work in a similar way with the non-public sector.
One of these organizations, the Conflict Resolution Center, offered legislators the opportunity to take its four-day mediation training course. Laine voluntarily took the course.
“You see how magical it can be to go from anger to everything being resolved,” Laine said. “They operate on a shoestring, yet what they do is so good.”
Successfully mediating workplace contracts and grievances can save parties thousands of dollars associated with escalating issues to the arbitration level, which may include attorney fees and binding resolution, Tilsen said. More state employees could benefit from the mediation training and workshops offered by the bureau; however, some workers attach a stigma to the notion of being taught conflict resolution, he said.
- Sue Hegarty
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