New Rules for Federal Unions

The Department of Labor has issued new rules that require union members be notified of their rights as members of a union.

Federal unions must notify members of their rights as members, according to a new rule issued by the Department of Labor.

The Labor Department recently published a final rule in the Federal Register that requires federal labor organizations to “periodically inform their members of their rights as union members as set forth in the standards of conduct provisions of [Acts governing federal labor] and their implementing regulations.”

Under the new rule, federal employee unions have to periodically inform members of their rights regarding participation, speech, assembly, nomination and office-holding rights with regard to their union.

The new rule applies to all labor organizations that are subject to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.

The new rules are effective on July 3. Federal employee unions will have 90 days to disseminate the information to all current members and must disseminate the information once again at least every three years. New members are required to be notified of their rights within 90 days of joining a union.

If a labor organization has an internet website, the site must link to the Union Member Rights under the Civil Service Reform Act or to the union’s own notice of union member rights as long as the notice accurately states all of the CSRA standards of conduct provisions.

Those notification requirements are more stringent than those imposed on private sector unions.

The agency issued the proposed regulations on November 3, 2004, and accepted comments for two months. The agency received more than 750 comments although most of the comments were form letters. The argument in favor of the regulation, according to most of these comments was:

“[t]his requirement is sorely needed to prevent federal employee unions from becoming personal fiefdoms in which a few powerful union officials control the organization * * * [i]nforming union members of their rights is an essential part of strengthening union democracy and protecting the federal civil service from corrupt union officials.”

The Labor Department noted in its final rule that the number of comments that were sent in demonstrated strong support in favor of the proposed rule from numerous people.

Two unions argued that federal employees did not have the rights given to private sector union members and that the right of federal employee derive only from the union’s governing documents. The agency found this argument “unpersuasive” and concluded that union members who were not aware of their rights as federal employee union members would not enable them to take steps to ensure that the unions comply with legal requirements.

The final rule has more precise requirements for the timing and content of the notice to employees than similar rules governing private sector unions. The agency concluded that this is a minor difference that does not invalidate the new requirement because it conforms to the requirements imposed on private sector labor unions and there is no requirement that the regulation be the same in all respects.

In short, said the Labor Department: “[E]ach labor organization subject to the CSRA must inform its members of the relevant provisions of the CSRA. In the Department’s view, there is no persuasive argument that members of federal sector unions are less deserving of such information than members of unions solely representing private sector employees. The comments indicate that unions subject to the proposed rule, as a general matter, do not already provide such information of their own volition to their members. The comments also indicate that union members, as a general matter, are not already aware of the provisions of the CSRA. The Department has concluded that notice is necessary to ensure that Federal sector union members are provided a basic understanding of their rights as union members and the responsibilities of their officers.”

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