Created by the General Court in Chapter 730 of the Acts and Resolves of 1977, the Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC) began operations in January of 1978 and has, since that time, exercised broad oversight responsibility for all collective bargaining negotiations between municipal police officers or firefighters and municipalities in the Commonwealth. Through mediation and other voluntary forms of dispute resolution, the JLMC assists labor and management in reaching negotiated settlements to the disputes that arise over the terms of collective bargaining agreements. If the dispute persists for an unreasonably long period, the Committee is empowered by Chapter 589 of the Acts of 1987 to invoke various forms of arbitration.

At the outset of the Committee in 1978, arbitration awards were binding on the municipality, its executive and legislative branches. In 1980, Proposition 2-1/2 led the Committee to use only mediation as a means to resolve disputes. As a consequence the Committee began to accumulate a significant backlog of unresolved disputes.

In December of 1987, the General Court enacted and the Governor signed into law Chapter 589 of the Acts and Resolves of 1987, providing an additional mechanism available to the Committee to resolve disputes that have proven difficult to settle for a long period. Section 3(a) of that act states that in cases that "have remained unresolved for an unreasonable period of time resulting in the apparent exhaustion of the process of collective bargaining" and that "constitute a potential threat to public welfare" the Committee may invoke various specified forms of "limited" arbitration. Any decision resulting from this process, if supported by material and substantive evidence on the whole record, shall be binding upon the executive arm of the public employer and upon the employee organization, subject to the approval of a funding request by the municipal legislative body (City or Town Council or Town Meeting). The award is limited in that it is not binding on the legislative body that appropriates the funds. This dispute resolution process was reaffirmed and made a continuing part of the Committee's legislation by the General Court in March of 1990, eliminating a sunset provision.

In fiscal year 1990, the Committee developed, for the first time, a variation on the limited arbitration process: voluntary limited arbitration. Under this procedure both management and labor in cases before the Committee voluntarily agree to use the process outlined in Section 3(a), that is an arbitration decision that is binding on the municipal executive, but not on the municipal appropriating authority, to resolve their dispute. This new voluntary process that typically reduces elapsed time to a settlement gives the Committee another variant of a useful tool in assisting communities in resolving their public safety labor disputes expeditiously.

When a fact-finding or limited arbitration procedure with an outside neutral is employed, normally a list is circulated to both parties, allowing them the opportunity to rank the proposed neutrals. By this process, the parties indicate their preferred joint choice who is normally appointed by the Committee. On occasions, the Committee may exercise its authority to appoint a neutral, without sending the parties a list to be ranked. The cost of the outside neutrals is borne equally by the parties to the dispute.

The Committee has utilized a variety of dispute resolution techniques to achieve settlements. In many cases, agreement is achieved by means of mediation alone, conducted by the JLMC staff field investigators. In many other cases, senior staff members, committee members or the Chairman or Vice-Chairman are called upon to assist in the mediation process. In some cases, the Committee votes to enlist the aid of an outside neutral to serve as a fact finder (who may or may not make recommendations), or an arbitrator in a limited form of arbitration. On occasion, the Committee has appointed an outside neutral as a special master or conciliator to assist in a particular case.

The Committee is pleased to report that its relationship with the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration continues to grow and strengthen. This relationship has allowed the Committee to refer, on occasion, a few specific cases to the Board or to particular members of its staff where they have had experience with the parties involved.

At the end of calendar year 2003, the Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee will complete twenty-six years of service to the citizens of the Commonwealth. During this twenty-six year period, the Committee has utilized a variety of dispute resolution techniques to achieve resolution in greater than 1765 cases.