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.