Labor and Employee Relations in 2008: The Wonderful Stories of the Year

The author recaps FedSmith stories that its authors couldn’t have made up had they tried all year. These stories require no suspension of belief by the reader. All are provably true.

When I wrote the compendium of 2007 stories last year, I was dubbed a "Sultan of LR Silliness" by none other than the No. 2 player at NTEU.  As an Irishman, I’d have been more pleased perhaps to be called the Príomh Aire (High Minister in Irish) of Silliness, but Sultan works.

This year’s truly inspiring stories carry on the tradition that "we couldn’t make this stuff up."  Most reflect the foibles of Federal employees, but some portray an almost perfect state of unreality that some Agencies and officials share.  Here goes:

Maybe the Movie Made her Sick

In our first tale, an employee claimed FMLA leave when she was actually helping her husband, the director, make a film.  Her claim that her resignation was coerced wasn’t believed by the MSPB or the Federal Circuit.  The court never mentioned the title of the movie the couple was working on.  Do you think it might have been a remake of Jim Carrey’s 1997 hit Liar, Liar?

Amnesia at Transportation Security

Somewhere along the way, an applicant for a job at TSA forgot eight years of employment, two letters of counseling, a reprimand, a temporary pay reduction, a second reprimand, two separate suspensions, and placement in a one-year probationary status with close supervision.  That’s OK, we all have moments we’d rather forget but doing it on an SF-86 that you have to sign and date didn’t cut it when the Agency told him to "forget it" in relation to a job.

You Know I could Never Get Assets and Liabilities Right Either

In this saga, an employee’s claim against her Agency was dismissed when she said she couldn’t afford the $250 filing fee seeking "in forma pauperis status" and claiming assets of only $300.  It turns out the individual, an accountant, and her GS-15 husband were worth more than half a million.  When asked by the court why she made the claim, she told the judge that she had a verbal agreement with her husband that she could not touch any of the money in two T. Rowe Price accounts until after his death, and that she did not realize the condo was in her name as well as his.  Debits, credits, who knew?

Restoration after Incarceration

After spending some time in the pokey, the former mail handler wanted his old job back.  He says the Postal Service told him it didn’t hire ex-felons but he says he found out from Labor that they could if they wanted to, so he sued his former Agency for failing to re-employ him.  Both the MSPB and the Federal declined jurisdiction in the matter.  Maybe he’ll go to OPM and ask for a new restoration category to be created.  After all, he could argue, people are restored after military service and on-the-job injuries, why not after a few years in the slammer.

I Musta Been Crazy

The Army fires a guy for, among other things, not following air traffic control directions; flying recklessly through a storm; not following safety procedures on approach; and flying recklessly in icing conditions rather than turning back. Also included was a failure to follow orders charge citing three specifications—not getting required permission to fly in a restricted military airspace; disobeying air traffic control; and failing to turn over his weapon as required. MSPB upheld the removal and it went to the Federal Circuit where the guy wanted the court to consider "mental stability and personality problems".  This issue was raised for the first time before the court.  Do ya think he finally read the charges and figured out that what he did was a little over the edge?

Washington is for Lawyers

Two Congressmen are battling out a lawsuit in which one claims the other illegally intercepted a cell phone conversation.  The one whose call got recorded won and was awarded in excess of $1,000,000.00 in attorney fees. I hope the folks at Jones Day treated the Congressman to a meal at L’Auberge Chez Francois, reputedly the most expensive restaurant in the DC area.They can afford it.

When the Second Bite Has a Worm

In this case, the individual won $40,000.00 in a discrimination complaint at the administrative level.  I guess it wasn’t enough, so she went to court for more and lost.She failed to reply to a government brief on what the remedy should be, she had to pay back all $40,000.00. The court said ">[W]hen a federal employee comes to court to challenge, in whole or in part, the administrative disposition of his or her discrimination claims, the court must consider those claims de novo, and is not bound by the results of the administrative process…[B]y seeking de novo review in district court, Hodge incurred the risk of losing on the merits, which is precisely what happened. The lesson here has gotta be: be careful what you ask for (de novo trial), ya might just get it.

Don’t Sugar Coat It, OPM

In response to encouragement from Steny Hoyer, a Democratic Congressman from DC’s Maryland suburbs about expanding a 4-10 hour day workweek, OPM responded "We have concluded that such a proposal would be detrimental to the Federal Government’s ability to provide essential services, would weaken national security safeguards, and impact recruitment and retention efforts within the Federal workforce."  The letter went out August 29, 2008 signed by then Acting Director Michael Hager.  I sure hope he has a job to go to on or before Inauguration Day or that the Congressman has a forgiving spirit.

Love and Loss on the Internet

In this cautionary tale, a NASA employee apparently fell for one of those Nigerian email scams we all get in the inbox from time to time.  The employee’s government computer got invaded and the guy tried to steal her identity.  NASA’s IG got up with the Nigerian Feds and the data invader got 18 months in the local pokey.  In the internet age, I guess it’s no longer "beware of Greeks bearing gifts" but "stay away from Africans sending advertisements".

Don Quixote Award

This year’s tilting at windmills award goes to Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) who pushed a bill through the House of Representatives (it passed 376-1).  The bill prohibits the federal government from writing confusing language in its letters, forms and other publications. Now get this, the only guy who voted against the bill is named Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona.  Of course there’s a great line in the bill that says all there is to say, "the term `covered document’–includes, whether in paper or electronic form, a letter, publication, form, notice, or instruction but does not include a regulationRight on, Bruce.

Dueling Counsels General and Some Interesting History

This year we continued to report the epic struggle of FLRA’s General Counsel to force the NLRB’s General Counsel to accept a bargaining unit configuration that NLRB considers violates its statute.  In pursuing the story, I discovered that when the Federal labor law was written, the then U.S. Civil Service Commission wrote the legislation intending to model the FLRA on the NLRB.  It appears an error was made in that FLRA’s GC serves at the pleasure of the President while the NLRB counterpart is a term appointment.  After almost 30 years of dealing with and writing about the FLRA, lots of things make sense now that I’ve heard this.

Disappearing Counsels General

This year I wrote an article on the abrupt departure without any comment or explanation of FLRA’s General Counsel.  My intent was to point up the unresponsiveness of FLRA’s web site and press function not to pick on the outgoing Ms. Kiko.  However, I got a number of emails from people concerned with my insensitivity saying that perhaps she had been kidnapped or had otherwise been the victim of foul play.  To allay such fears, FedSmith’s editor had to insert a note saying that she had actually gone on to the Department of Labor.  Really folks, get a grip!

Will 2009 surpass past years for true silliness?  Every indication is that we’ll have a 180 degree shift in almost everything going on in at least labor relations and perhaps other things as well.  Here’s my true test of silliness, will the Obama administration seek to implement its own performance appraisal system?  If so, we won’t run out of material any time soon.

Any opinion expressed herein is mine and mine alone and should not be attributed to anyone I work or write with or for.


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.