Senate Holds Confirmation Hearings for FLRA and General Counsel Nominees

The Author discusses the Senate process and provides copies of the nominees written statements and extensive responses to Senate questionnaires. Since their confirmation is a virtual certainty, those involved in Federal labor relations would be well advised to get to know these people and their views.

On Wednesday July 29, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs conducted hearings on the nominations of Ernie Dubester to be a Member and Julia Clark to be General Counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).

Julia Akins Clark

Ms. Clark’s opening statement was more direct than Mr. Dubester’s. One part stood out though. If she means it, there might be some interesting times in Federal labor relations. She said:

"I have the deepest respect and admiration for federal government employees. It is my opinion that civil servants, be they rank-in-file employees, supervisors, mid-level managers, or high ranking career employees and political appointees, seek to serve the public interest, which includes compliance with the federal labor relations statute. I believe that it is incumbent upon the FLRA General Counsel to provide them with clear, up-to-date and accessible information about their labor relations rights and responsibilities and assist them in resolving disputes regarding those rights and responsibilities in a fair, consistent and timely manner."

Of course, since almost all unfair labor practice allegations are made against Agencies, it will be interesting to watch how much information she provides charged parties. While the last democratically appointed General Counsel rigged FLRA’s regulations to require that managers give written statements in an investigation, there is no obligation on the part of the GC’s field attorneys to provide access to case file information or participate in any form of discovery. I guess we’ll see how far accessible goes.

Clark faces an enormous backlog. The Senate documents indicates that 300 Unfair Labor Practice Complaints are pending as well as 700 appeals from regional dismissals of charges. The issuance of a complaint as well as the appeal of a dismissed charge require a General Counsel and we haven’t had one since the former GC disappeared.

Ms. Clark’s background is much less neutral than Mr. Dubester’s. Her bio in her response to the Senate’s questions indicate she has been a lawyer for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers for over 20 years, most of that as its General Counsel.

Another difference from Mr. Dubester is that she is has a number of articles to her credit and appears to take an interest in the technology of labor relations. Who knows, perhaps she’ll take a much needed interest in improving FLRA’s deservedly maligned website.

Ernie Dubester

Mr. Dubester’s written statement while predictably bland,  is positive about the FLRA but refers to the Authority’s lack of resources and his commitment getting things back on track. 

His response to Senate questions is more revealing and worth a read.  In his youth he worked six years as a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board. 

He then spent twelve years as a union lawyer including nine as Legislative Counsel for the AFL-CIO. Since 1993 he has served two hitches at the National Mediation Board(NMB) as Chairman/Member and later as a mediator. He also taught negotiation, mediation and ADR at George Mason’s Law School and arbitrated cases, including Federal sector, as well.

Mr. Dubester has been a professional neutral since Bill Clinton appointed him to NMB. I searched FLRA’s website to see if one of his arbitrations had been appealed but no luck. GMU lists his hourly fee as $200.00 for arbitration so he must have given deep discounts to get Federal sector work. He has lots of training and speaking experience. Let’s hope we get to hear from him at one of the conferences if he’s appointed.

Labor Relations Pros

All things considered, these nominees are highly experienced in labor relations and know their way around the Federal system. They are both knowledgeable and savvy Washington hands.

I wish them both luck and a rewarding time in office. In the case of Ms. Clark, she’ll need both luck and long hours to dig out from the backlog mess she’s inheriting.

It’s worth your time to read the opening statements provided the senate as well as the biographical information and responses to questions from the Senate committee. The labor relations community is likely to be dealing with them for the length of the Obama Administration.

As usual, any opinions expressed are mine and 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.