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Minnesota Agencies

Information on Minnesota State Agencies, Boards, Task Forces, and Commissions

Compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

Mediation Services Bureau

Also known as:
Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS)
Active dates:1969 -

The Bureau of Mediation Services is an independent agency responsible for "the establishment and encouragement of a stable and positive labor-management relationship in the public, non-profit and private sectors of Minnesota's economy" (Legislative Manual, 1981-1982, pp. 349-350). It administers designated provisions of the Minnesota Labor Relations Act of 1939, the Minnesota Labor Union Democracy Act of 1943, the Charitable Hospital Act of 1947, and the Public Employment Labor Relations Act of 1971, all of which are codified in Minnesota Statutes 179.


In 1939, the state legislature enacted the Minnesota Labor Relations Act (Minnesota Statutes 179) as a means of peacefully settling disputes resulting from the growing size and strength of Minnesota's labor movement. The Act recognized that a sound economy is aided by a constructive labor-management environment. To administer the Act, the legislature created the Division of Conciliation (Laws 1939 c440 s2), the forerunner of the present Bureau of Mediation Services. The Division was to perform four functions: conciliation/mediation, arbitration, bargaining unit determinations, and bargaining unit certification elections. It succeeded the Labor and Industry Department's Division of Mediation and Arbitration, which had been organized whenever an application was made for its services. Although the new division was established in the Labor and Industry Department, it was specifically not made subject to the control of that department. It was administered by the state labor conciliator, appointed by the governor.

In 1969 the division's name was changed to Bureau of Mediation Services, and its administrator's title to director (Laws 1969 c1129 a2 s1), and a 1977 law removed all references to its placement in the Labor and Industry Department (Laws 1977 c305 s25). At the time of its passage, the Minnesota Labor Relations Act was considered a new experiment in labor relations, its purpose being to provide a state office to assist in voluntary settlement of labor disputes, with the intention of avoiding strikes and promoting industrial peace (Legislative Manual, 1941, p. 176; Division of Conciliation annual report 1939/40).

The bureau's primary objective continues to be preventing work stoppages or limiting their duration. The director may take jurisdiction of an unresolved labor dispute upon petition by any party to the dispute, and may hold conferences and hearings, assist in negotiating a settlement, or take other measures aimed at resolving the dispute. The act does not, however, give the director any judicial or police powers. If a threatened work stoppage would adversely affect public life, safety, or health, the director may refer it to the governor, who may appoint a special commission to investigate the dispute and recommend measures for its resolution.

The bureau's other primary functions, carried out largely upon requests from employee or employer representatives, are: (1) to determine appropriate employee representatives (bargaining units), by conducting investigations, holding hearings and elections, and resolving disputes as necessary; (2) to hear and determine challenges of fair share fee assessments to non-union employees; (3) to maintain a roster of qualified labor-management arbitrators for referral to labor and management representatives and the governor as requested; and (4) to supervise the conduct of union officer elections and contract ratifications.

Agency heads:

Labor conciliators (1939-1969):

  • Lloyd J. Haney (April 1939-January 1941)
  • Alfred P. Blair (February-October 1941)
  • James L. Kelley (October 1941-September 1943)
  • Leonard W. Johnson (died in office) (September 1943-August 1948)
  • Harry L. Hanson (August 1948-April 1957)
  • Charles W. Johnson (May 1957-April 1961)
  • Richard E. Wanek (April 1961-February 1965)
  • Peter E. Obermeyer (March 1965-October 1967)
  • Vern Buck (October 1967-February 1973)

Directors (1969-1988): 

  • Vern Buck (October 1967-February 1973)
  • Charles A. Swanson (March 1973-1976)
  • Ernest H. Jones (1977-1978)
  • Peter E. Obermeyer (1979-1982)
  • Paul W. Goldberg (1983-December 1990)

Commissioner (1983-present):

  • Paul W. Goldberg (1983-December 1990)
  • Joyce Wood, Acting Commissioner (January 1991-March 1991)
  • Peter Obermeyer (March 1991-December 1994)
  • Lance Teachworth (1995-2003)
  • James Cunningham (2003-2009)
  • Steven Hoffmeyer (2009-2010(?))
  • Josh Tilsen (died in office) (February 8, 2011-April 18, 2017)
  • Todd Doncavage (April 2017-January 2019)
  • Janet L. Johnson (January 2019 - December 21, 2021)
  • Johnny Villarreal (December 22, 2021 - )
Note: The Legislative Reference Library may have additional reports on or by this group available through our catalog.
News clippings and documents: Bureau of Mediation Services. Agencies Notebook Collection, 1971-2019.
News clippings and documents: State Labor Conciliator. Agencies Notebook Collection, 1965-1969.
Record last updated: 04/22/2024

All information on this group from the Library’s collection of agency notebooks has been digitized. These materials are incorporated into the “documents/articles” section of the record. Please contact a librarian with any questions. The Minnesota Agencies database is a work in progress.

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