10 Things Agency Management Can Do to be More Effective in Labor Relations (Part 2)

What steps can a federal agency take to make its labor relations program more effective? Here are suggestions in part two of the two-part series.

I outlined the first suggestions for improving agency labor relations programs in an earlier article. Here are the rest.

Suggestions to Federal management to get their labor relations house in order

6. Engage in effective internal public relations

Almost all Federal agencies do a good to great job of tooting their horn with the taxpayer. Few do such a good job with their own workforce. Getting your version of events, policy changes, reorganizations etc. out is essential. Many unions are very good at shaping employee views while most agencies do little or nothing. Agencies have the statutory right to communicate with the workforce, use it.

Additionally, management can only do a better job of communicating within management. If you are a Federal manager, when was the last time you got a copy of a grievance, arbitration, Merit Systems Protection Board, Equal Employment Opportunity, or Federal Labor Relations Authority decision, etc. from your agency. All the union stewards have them.

Do you want your supervisors to get their labor relations knowledge from the union?

7. Plan your initiatives. Put an end to single issue bargaining

I once consulted with an agency that engaged in separate bargaining on over 1000 issues a year. When they complained about it, I suggested that they consolidate the issues quarterly and across organization lines to gain negotiating leverage. The senior career official in the agency told me that such a thing was literally impossible as each “Fiefdom” ruled its own roost and coordination would require that the top managers actually talk to each other and perhaps make some concessions for the general good. He was so appalled at the suggestion, I shut up. After all, we all must eat.

8. Follow the contract

Get a copy. Read it. Ask questions. Nothing gives a union influence and credibility like winning an arbitration case or getting a favorable grievance settlement.

9. Don’t panic at grievances and ULPs

I know this will be unpopular with the general Federal culture, but I like grievances. Grievances can tell you that managers are actually enforcing the contract, interpreting the agreement to meet their unit’s needs or taking necessary disciplinary action. Grievances can also tell you whether performance or promotion systems are actually working. Unfair Labor Practice allegations also provide an indication of the union’s sensitivity on issues, whether change is being implemented and if managers are following the law.

10. Manage and resource bargaining

Develop a back room team that supports negotiations with analysis, information and administrative support. He or she who has the best bargaining history wins. Develop a standing executive committee chaired by the CBO to guide negotiators. Find a chief negotiator or train one. The principal criterion is organizational savvy. Labor relations staff and lawyers can keep the chief on track. While I believe some negotiations require highly trained professional staff bargainers, most negotiations would be well served by a chief that knew how the place worked operationally.

By the way, the views I express here are mine alone.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.