The New Labor Relations: Are You Ready, Career Federal Executive?

As Executive Order 13522 is implemented, career Federal execs face new challenges finding themselves sandwiched between political appointees with a series of agendas including making unions happy, and unions with great expectations of expanded influence. Walking that wire may be a very new experience for those who were not at the front in the Clinton years. The Author offers 10 morsels of food for thought.

Agency career leaders are beginning to experience a variety of fallout from the President’s executive order. Among the issues with which Agencies are currently wrestling:
  1. A number of Agencies got their implementation plans kicked back to them this week by the National Council on Labor-Management Relations for either failing to or a lack of interest in collaborating with their unions on developing the plan in the first place. What now?
  2. In an interesting and creative fudge factoring, apparently some Agencies are saying they’ll agree to bargain permissive topics if they can limit the areas in which they’ll do so. Is that a possibility?
  3. Deciding who will sit on department forums generally and how subordinate Agencies and unions will be represented. Can all be made happy?
  4. Working out which unions will get to sit on which forums as some have a history (from Partnership days) of refusing to sit at the same table. Think they’ll do it if the venue is a cruise ship?
  5. Will more grant, as some Agencies already have, different forums for different unions?
  6. Whether to exclude human resources staff or managers from Agency forums as AFGE’s John Gage pressed the issue at the first National Council Meeting. We hear he’s backed off a little, now demanding these folks not be leading the forums but can sit there. Rumor has it some Agencies are excluding HR folks to make Mr. Gage happy.   Is your Agency one of these?
  7. Does the Order requires a forum at every level of recognition and what does the term “other levels” mean?
  8. How, per the Order, to “allow employees and their union representatives to have pre-decisional involvement in all workplace matters to the fullest extent practicable, without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining under 5 U.S.C. 7106?
  9. In a very interesting turn, whether non-Federal employee union representatives (like Mr. Gage) are severely limited by other laws to the information to which they may be made privy?
  10. The degree to which all of the above is a subject of negotiation. For example, can the union bargain over the official time, number of attendees, number of alternates, number of observers, and a myriad of other issues surrounding forums or is forum membership and participation work for which they get duty time and travel, etc.?
I hear that Aciphex®, Maalox® and Zantac® sales are up inside the beltway. Buy stock, greater sales to come. Many of us who have toiled on management’s side in the labor relations vineyard are anxious to see how those same career executives, who got out the garlic and crosses whenever we wanted to consult with them about labor relations, handle much more direct dealings without a buffer.
I think it may be time for WETA to run back episodes of Yes Minister for its Federal viewers. What may have seemed silly and exclusively British once upon a time, may have much greater relevance today as politicals go delving into the bowels of their organizations.
Perhaps a few commentors on this article will share some views on solving one or more of the ten questions raised above instead, as some do, continuing to offer only diatribe.
As always, opinions stated herein are mine and mine alone. BTW, I’m conducting an Advanced Labor Relations: Focus on Negotiability (two days) in the DC area in May. Contact Dennis Hermann at DennisH@GRAinc for more information.

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.