FLRA and FMCS Joint Executive Order Training: A Few Simple Questions

The Federal government’s inside prosecutor of labor law violations is participating in the offer of free training on the Obama labor relations executive order. The author asks if anyone has considered the wisdom, propriety and risks involved in the training and suggests that one of those risks may involving compromising the FLRA’s integrity.

Recently the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) issued a press release which says in part,

FLRA and FMCS Joint Training

Executive Order 13522

The Federal Labor Relations Authority, Office of General Counsel and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service are pleased to announce a joint training on  implementing Executive Order 13522, Creating Labor-Management Forums to Improve Delivery of Government Services.  FMCS Director George Cohen and FLRA General Counsel Julia Akins Clark are committed to providing this outreach service to enhance effective and cooperative labor-management relations in the federal sector.

The two-day training program is designed to enhance participants’ knowledge of bargaining rights and obligations under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute.  Participants should attend the program with their bargaining counterparts so that management and union representatives will have a common understanding and shared experience of the information and skills needed for effective labor management forums.

Day One will cover  bargaining rights and obligations under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, particularly section 7106(b)(1), as well as  Pre-Decisional Involvement—defining and establishing processes to involve employees, through their union representatives, prior to final decisions being made on agency initiatives.  (My Emphasis)

Day Two will be devoted to the fundamentals of establishing and maintaining an effective Labor Management Forum that meets the goals of the Executive Order, including forum design, agendas, consensual decision-making, facilitation, and other techniques for ensuring committee success. (My Emphasis) 

No big deal, right? I mean all that’s going on is a little training on labor relations, right? Since the authorship of this Executive Order (EO 15322) is not so quietly claimed by Federal sector union representatives, where are the teachers of the class getting their guidance on interpreting and applying the Order? Does anyone else see issues here?

I haven’t seen any guidance from the National Council on Labor Management Relations on how to interpret or apply the order. In this transparent government, shouldn’t one be basing one’s Congressionally funded training on something more than the mere words contained in the order?

I mean no criticism of the Mediation Service here. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) has long conducted training on getting along in labor management relations and has carefully maintained the neutrality needed to assist the parties to negotiation resolutions. It may behoove FMCS, however, to make sure it’s not getting in bed with the wrong partner.

Whether or not one likes the scope of bargaining under Federal law, it is what it is. Administrations come and go but FMCS mediators must maintain credibility with parties throughout.

So what’s the Issue?

Let’s start with Ms. Clark, the FLRA’s General Counsel. She’s a Washington lawyer who spent 20 plus years working for a Federal sector union. Of those years, 14 or 15 were spent as the union’s general counsel battling Federal Agencies in a variety of disputes. Her resume indicates exactly no experience representing a Federal Agency. She served on the Obama transition team at FLRA.

On taking her job at the FLRA, she took the oath many of us have to uphold the constitution and the laws of the country. Her job mostly involves directing the investigation and prosecution of Federal Agency managers in 4000 or 5000 Unfair Labor Practice cases a year. Oh, yeah, there are ULPs filed against unions but the numbers are miniscule compared to charges against Agencies. So where am I going with this? The training discussed above is largely to be conducted by her staff, those self same investigators and prosecutors addressing union allegations of statutory violations against managers. Am I the only one who sees a potential conflict here?

Muddy Waters

The Muddy Waters once sang, “Oh so evil, Evil as anybody can be, You know I’m the hoochie coochie man, Don’t nobody mess with me”. Evil lyrics © Watertoons Music.

So, I go to one of these classes as an Agency manager and I hear about the statute and I hear about the Order; I hear about how I can’t bargain 7106(a) under the law and how I am expected to involve the union in these self same issues under the order before a decision has been made; I hear how 7106 (b)(1) allows me options under the law and how I’m encouraged to waive my  7106(b)(1) options under the Order; I hear that I don’t have to share certain information under 5 USC 7114 (b)(4) and I hear a different message under the Order.

Now, keep in mind that I’m hearing all this from the hoochie coochie man and know if I mess with him, I may see him investigating one of these exact matters at my Agency and him allowing as how I might just have violated the law. Am I the only one who sees a potential conflict here?

Words from Our President

The following are exact quotes from President Obama:

“Most people who serve in Washington have been trained either as lawyers or as political operatives–professions that tend to place a premium on winning arguments rather than solving problems.”

“It’s not just enough to change the players. We’ve gotta change the game.”

FLRA’s General Counsel meets at least one of the criteria of the first quote and maybe both. With regard to the second quote we certainly have not changed the game or the players, we’ve merely given one a leg up. Shame on you Ms. Clark if you cannot see that many who have represented Federal Agencies in negotiations and ULPs might not see your office as an honest broker in all of this. Those who have served as Agency representatives have the responsibility to carry out the law as well and are not the obstructionists that AFGE’s President makes them out to be.

When those who attend your classes return to work, remember that the law they must carry out has not been changed and, by the way, it’s the same one you swore to uphold.

As always, 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.