Labor and Employee Relations 2009: We Couldn’t Make It Up If We Tried!

It’s that time of year and labor and employee relations in 2009 did not disappoint the observer of silly, scary or simply crazy events. As we look at last year, you decide whether things went up or downhill as the year progressed.

It’s that time of year and labor and employee relations in 2009 did not disappoint the observer of silly, scary or simply crazy events. As we look at last year, you decide whether things went up or downhill as the year progressed.

January. The Federal Case That Won’t Die involved a former Park Service Police Chief who was engaged in an epic struggle with her former Agency following her firing in 2004. After losing at MSPB, she is now in the courts. To prove the title of the story is true, a Google search discovered that the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals will take up the case on Wednesday, February 3, 2010, 10:00 A.M., Courtroom 402, If you’d like to hear more. Yogi Berra once said, "It ain’t over ‘til it’s over". Sounds like Yogi was dead on again.

January. Sex and the VA Therapist related the cautionary tale of a VA kinesio-therapist who parlayed his practice into a five year affair with a patient. After the end of the affair, the patient complained of sexual harassment and requested a new therapist. It was unclear from the case facts whether the patient wanted another affair or not. In any event, the therapist was fired from the VA and lost on appeal of the case to the Federal Circuit. I wonder if the therapist is now quoting Alfred Lord Tennyson: "I hold it true, what e’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; ’tis better to have loved and lost; than never to have loved at all."

February: Do You Have an Uzi?told the story of a Postal Service electronics technician fired for making a threatening remark about an "Uzi" and intentionally failing an ink jet printer training course. This was after having served three prior suspensions. He took his case to the Federal Circuit which sustained his removal. Albert Einstein once said, "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe." 

March: Obama Dismisses Bush Impasses Panel: Who’s Next? reported the President’s dismissal of the Bush-appointed Federal Service Impasses Panel, a matter certainly within the scope of the president’s powers.  To great union criticism, President Bush did the same to the Panel that Clinton had appointed. Notably absent from the Obama firing was the geyser of indignation that spouted forth when President Bush did the exact same thing. H.G. Wells said, "Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo". ‘nuf said.
May: "John Doe" Fired After Taping Sexual Encounters With Co-Workers; Court Sends Case Back to MSPB is yet another cautionary tale about mixing romance and work. In a case as complicated as a Shakespeare play, an FBI agent got canned for taping his sexual encounters with coworkers and others sometimes surreptitiously. The Board sustained the Agency action but the Court returned the case to the Board for more work.   In any case, the Agent appeared to agree with e.e. cummings, who said, "kisses are a better fate than wisdom".
September: Don’t Mess with the HR Office details a removal for a scuffle over (No Kidding!)the placement of a water cooler. The matter involving an employee of the Architect of the Capitol and one of the Agency’s HR managers, went to a firing when the involved employee allegedly got physical over the HR manager moving the cooler from his office to her office. Apparently, someone here was concerned about the truth of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which reads, "Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

November: 17-Year Employee Fired for Actions During Internal Affairs Investigation reported the story of a law enforcement officer who told Agency special agents during an interview that "they were like FBI rejects and whining little girls" and that "they were like two clowns." He later claimed he was acting as a union official during the interview and not as an employee. One must read the case to get a true flavor for this fellow’s attitude. No surprise to a reader would be the MSPB and Circuit Court sustaining the Agency. 
The Court added to its finding the quote that his behavior, "raises serious questions about his judgment and his ability to exercise self-discipline." Apparently this guy missed reading David Hume, an eighteenth century philosopher who said, "When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities."
I couldn’t find quotations that addressed the truly wonderful silliness of:
  • The epic struggle between the FLRA and NLRB Counsels General.
  • The amazingly confusing and litigation engendering wording of the new Executive Order designed to simplify and improve labor management relations.
  • The belief of certain FLRA and FSIP members that they keenly understand Federal management’s problems because they had been supervisors at the FLRA at some point in their career.
  • The FLRA generally in never needing to ask anyone about anything.
  • The FLRA Chair who sees no problem being the Administrations point person in labor relations instead of a neutral.
Perhaps the quote from the late Will Rogers covers all five of the above: "There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you."
The above editorial comments are my views alone. Most of the stories were originally reported by Susan Smith to whom kudos are owed for having a sharp eye for the ridiculous. In 2010, it will be interesting to see if Federal Agencies and employees continue to play, can you top this?


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.