Tiny Union About to Become Roadkill in DHS Deal?

If a deal is reached between AFGE, NTEU and DHS, a small union representing federal employees may be wiped out.

An ancient Chinese proverb contends that when bulls fight, the grass gets trampled. A more modern, American version of the same idea might be that when 18-wheelers decide to cozy up, it can be dangerous to be in a Volkswagen caught between them.

Take, for example, the recent announcement by two of the largest federal employee unions (AFGE and NTEU) that they intend to seek FLRA approval of a scheme that would allow them to take joint custody of a bargaining unit that would include most of the employees merged to form U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)-a major component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

But the plan, according to NTEU President Colleen Kelley, does not include representation by officials of the National Association of Agriculture Employees (NAAE), a small, independent union that represents a small portion of the CBP inspector workforce.

So what happens to the tiny unit of former Agriculture inspectors if and when the AFGE/NTEU plan is approved?

“They become sand in the gears of progress,” according to a former federal official who is well-versed in representation matters.

“Agencies usually want to simplify and streamline bargaining units to make it easier to issue personnel policies and maintain consistency across a large workforce. Allowing a tiny unit like NAAE to remain separate, thereby requiring separate bargaining on every management policy, would make no sense.”

In such situations, according to the former official, either the agency or the union with the best chance of prevailing usually files a clarification of unit petition, seeking a ruling that a single, large unit that is, in federal LMR parlance, more “effective and efficient.”

“If CBP and the major unions are able to reach agreement on this coalition bargaining idea,” he said, “I would guess it’s just a matter of time before one or the other files a petition to fold the NAAE inspectors into the unit.”

Should that happen, Volkswagens beware.

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