Obama Executive Order on Labor Management Forums: Deadline Dates and Requirements

Federal Agencies have lots to do in a short time to meet the requirements of the new Executive Order creating labor-management forums. The author’s wife, a retired Federal Human Resources Director, is betting him that Agencies will never meet the deadlines set by the Order for submitting plans. The author looks at requirements Agencies face.

No, is not a typo. Government adores an acronym. So will the President’s new National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations be called the “en-co-flemer”? What else could it be? In any event, March 9th is the deadline for Agencies to submit the following:

  • A description of a plan to conduct a “baseline assessment” of the current state of its labor relations.
  • The extent to which it HAS established labor-management forums and whether it will participate in the 7106(B)(1) bargaining project.
  • How it will work with the union to develop metrics that monitor improvements in areas such as:
    • labor-management satisfaction
    • productivity gains
    • cost savings
    • other areas as identified by the relevant labor-management forum’s participants

Of course, the perennial question arises as to who must do all this. It appears from the Order that Cabinet Agencies and independents must play but it isn’t a all clear that their primary national sub-divisions (a labor law term) have to submit a plan. What this means is that the Navy may not have to but the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission does. An interesting anomaly in that OSHRC has 14 bargaining unit employees (according to OPM) to the Navy’s quarter million but that’s what happens when those unfamiliar with how Uncle Sam works get to run the government.

The above seems clear (at least to this humble reader) that Agencies best have their forums in place and operating in advance of March 9 in order for the unions to get a shot at approving the plans as the Order seems to require.

This of course, creates even more fun as one looks at who sits on what forum. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary for example,  has a number of different unions within her Agency. Which ones get to sit on the Agency-wide forum? AFGE and NTEU for sure, but what about those in the field which aren’t AFGE or NTEU affiliates? If you think she’s got troubles, last I recall, DOD had over a hundred different unions among its employees. Imagine trying to get all of them to agree on a plan of any kind.

April 10, 2010: NCoFLMR Must Finish its Review of All the Plans

The NCoFLMR is missing eight of its seventeen members as of this writing. I guess that means that if only the current named people show up to review plans, there’s a quorum; or maybe all must vote.

The other question is: Do the members all have review plans? I’m not holding my breath while every high level member reads and comments on all the plans within 30 days. Someone should ask DOD how long it takes to put together an ISSA. For the uninitiated, an ISSA is an Inter-Service Servicing Agreement—in other words an agreement between agencies on something, not generally a short term affair.

Of course, the unions are experts on facilitating agreements quickly. I’m being slightly facetious because many national contracts are generational events directly based on perceived advantage.

May 7 or 10, 2010: All Agency Plans Must Be Implemented.

The 150 days from December 9, 2009 is Saturday May 8, 2010.

So I figure the plans are due either on the last business date before the expiration of the 150 days or the first work day after. Would it be imprudent to suggest that there will likely be few NCoFLMR police out checking implementation dates?

So What’s the Problem?

There are None If Your Agency Can Answer These Six Easy Questions:

  1. What possible metrics could be agreed that would measure labor management satisfaction? By who? What about?
  2. What are the criteria to be used in conducting a “baseline assessment” of the state of an Agency’s current labor relations?
  3. What is or who defines a “workplace issue” (the apparent meat and potatoes of Forum business) ?
  4. Who knows enough to be involved in an Agency-Union Forum that discusses virtually all Agency decisions at who knows what levels?
  5. Who can make an informed decision about the risks involved in volunteering to bargain over 7106(B)(1)?
  6. What constitutes a productivity gain or a cost saving in a Federal Agency?

Who Will Do the Work?

The Executive Order appears to move Federal labor relations in Agencies from the province of obscure career staff work to a high profile political concern.  So will Schedule Cs be doing all the work or might it fall on humble labor relations specialists. In the field, who could possibly be trusted to manage this effort?
Rhetoric V. Reality

Almost no one could argue with the W. Edwards Deming concept that management should ask workers for their input to constantly improve the way things work. That is much easier to grasp in concept than in execution.

While government has struggled against the stovepipe in recent years, its success is always complicated by the competing interests of such players as the Hill, the Courts, those regulated, business groups, consumer groups and the like. At the Food Safety and Inspection Service, for example, there’s been a long relationship between the employee union and consumer groups and advocates. Will that tempt the union at FSIS to press for mission issues favoring those groups. Of course it will.

So, in fairness, will industry groups be invited to the table to insure balance? Probably not, but it may be that our President will get a lesson in the unintended consequences of dropping an otherwise good idea on an organizational culture that may be unprepared to adopt a fairly radical approach to decision making involving organizations that have multiple agendas.

We’ll see.

As always, let me repeat my disclaimer that these are my thoughts on events and do not represent those of anyone I work 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.