Suggested Contract Language on “Negotiations During the Life of the Agreement”

The author suggests language that a federal agency may find useful in negotiating with a union.

Recently, I wrote a piece entitled: Dealing with Impact and Implementation Bargaining: A Management Worksheet. I think the more important effort might be getting good language on the topic into the contract in the first place. Attached is my humble (If you believe that…) suggestion for agreement language that, if adopted, would expedite the process considerably. The language titled Negotiations During the Life of the Agreement seeks to accomplish a number of goals. Among them:

  • Structure the process
  • Set time limits on the process
  • Limit bargaining to related issues
  • Avoid delays caused by information disputes
  • Set ground rules for all mid-contract negotiation to avoid delays
  • Establish a fair procedure to protect legitimate employee interests and union statutory rights when mission critical changes must be made.
  • Establishes a management contractual right in addition to its statutory right to act when it is necessary to do so.

The following is a section by section (relax, there’re only 6) look at the rationale behind the language.

Section 1 – Agreements under this Article

This section appears fairly simple but creates some important rights. First, the language, as part of the overall agreement expires when that agreement does. Second, it recognizes that any mid-contract agreement is subject to agency head review.

Section 2 – Mandated Changes

This section creates a broad definition of “mandated changes”; identifies a set procedure to negotiate those changes; creates a union obligation in the agreement mirroring the one in law; identifies the specific outcome if the union drops the ball.

It also limits bargaining to issues directly related to the proposed change. It is helpful to specify union obligations as the statute focuses on management obligations. Most of these are set out clearly (maybe) in case law. This gets them locked into an agreement for all to read especially arbitrators and FLRS Field Agents and Attorneys.

Section 3 – Other Changes

Like section 2, this section creates a union obligation in the agreement mirroring the one existing in law; identifies the specific outcome if the union drops the ball.

It also limits bargaining to issues directly related to the proposed change.

Section 4 – Information Requests

Hopefully, this language “boxes in” information issues and keeps the change process moving. It requires the Agency act wisely in providing available information and holds the union’s feet to the fire if it does. It puts “particularized need” into the agreement and creates an ultimate dispute resolution not in litigation but inside the bargaining process. Read closely, it also gives the Agency options if the Panel gets off the reservation in its suggested resolution.

Section 5 – Implementation

This section arguably reflects existing management statutory rights and existing case decisions. However, Past FLRAs have found that management implements “at its own risk”. This language recognizes a right to implement as long as the agency continues to bargain to agreement or impasse.

Section 6 – Negotiating Procedures

If you never want to make a change, permit ground rules bargaining before mid-contract bargaining commences. A major goal of this language is to get directly to negotiations. The substance of the ground rules is not as important as getting them in. If you’re going to give, give her but keep in mind that time is important. A change can lose impetus if put off.

Another goal is to structure as much as possible, the impasse request. Since the bargaining parties have virtually no control of the third parties, we need to structure the process as much as possible. As a side note, find a local mediator and keep that mediator informed as bargaining issues start. You may be able to get quicker assistance if you do.

Model Language

The unions regularly publish model language for proposal by their locals. I don’t know if all Agency labor relations practitioners would consider my suggestion as model management language. I believe it’s better than some of what’s out there. You be the judge. If you’ve got better language to suggest put in the comments below.

As always, this represents my views and mine alone. I hope it helps at least some of you.

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.