Which unions will represent big portion of DHS employees?

Reorganization of government into DHS creates bargaining unit issues

Government reorganization always has ripple effects. And, in a reorganization as large as the Department of Homeland Security, the ripples are likely to continue for some time.

Here is one example that directly impacts federal employees. In the Customs and Border Protection division of the “new” Department of Homeland Security, there is more than one union representing employees. The unions do not want to lose bargaining power and dues paying members but which union will represent employees?

The National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees are considering joint representation of employees in the new division. Joint representation of employees by two of the federal government’s largest unions would be unique. For the two unions involved, it could protect their income stream and bargaining power without putting everything at risk in an election.

But the agency could call for an election to have employees select one union representative within the division. If this happens, the Federal Labor Relations Authority would run and oversee the election. Instead of being partners, the two unions would then be contestants to see which union gets to represent employees. No one union represents more than 70 percent of employees so the automatic succession rule that would allow one union to represent all employees does not apply.

An agency source indicated there are several problems with having a coalition of unions representing employees. These issues include whether such a coalition is legal when it has not been selected by the employees through an election. Also, the agency wants to avoid a fragmented bargaining structure and the coalition plan may not be consistent with that preference. There are also employees represented by a third union, the National Association of Agricultural Employees, and it is apparently not involved in the discussion of a union coalition. According to one report, the two larger unions envision the Agricultural Employees union continuing to represent employees it currently represents.

An agency source indicated that the FLRA has previously allowed employees to select a representative in a secret ballot election even when the previous organizations were represented by the same union.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47