Bargaining On Permissive Topics: How Much Bargaining Will Take Place?

The Author takes a look at the Report to the National Council on Labor Management Relations on bargaining B(1) issues. These are matters that until now Agencies had to negotiate only at their election. According to the report, it appears the politicals are getting ready to write a success story in advance of the negotiations. You decide.

On June 7, the Working Group assigned to B(1) discussed their progress in a Report to the National Council on Labor Management Relations on bargaining B(1) issues.21 named people and somebody called OPM Staff were involved in developing this report. Of those named, four were union officials and one other a former AFGE lawyer now working for OPM, five political appointees, two were FLRA folks including the Chairman(she’s a political too lest we forget) , the President of the Senior Executives Association, an OMB staffer, an OPM Labor Relations person and five real live apparently career Feds.

What Agencies Will Play?

 It was interesting to see that from a reluctance to pitch in early on, the following Agencies were apparently excited to participate once everything was explained to them:

  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Treasury
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Office of Personnel Management
  • Social Security Administration
  • What’s B(1) Again?

     Remember that B(1) refers to that portion of the Federal labor law which says:

    “(b) Nothing in this section shall preclude any agency and any labor organization from negotiating— (1) at the election of the agency, on the numbers, types, and grades of employees or positions assigned to any organizational subdivision, work project, or tour of duty, or on the technology, methods, and means of performing work;”

    What’s the Group Vision?

    The group is suggesting that the pilot cover bargaining units with more than 500 employees; cover any combination of subjects addressed in B(1); and, may be limited to certain subjects only. The group wants Agency Labor Management Forums to work out the details. They want participants to get training and encouraged the use of ADR. 

    What’s Success?

     The group suggests that success involves measurable changes in:

    –organizational performance (to ensure that pilots contribute to better government);

    –employee satisfaction; and,

    –labor-management relations.

     What’s the Timeline?

     According to the group, it foresees the following timeline:

  • Task Agency Management and Union teams to develop their proposed pilot plans and report to Council within 30 days
  • Plan, organize and train pilot personnel within 120 days
  • Start pilots no later than November 2010
  • Conduct pilot for 18 months from start date
  • Prepare pilot reports and report to the Council on results
  •  What’s Missing in All This?

     I went back and read this a couple of times thinking I must have missed something because there appeared to me some unanswered questions, for example:

  • If the unit is covered by a contract, the only B(1) bargaining would be over an issue directly related to change not covered by the contract, right?
  • Would that mean that an acceptable report to the President in 18 months would be Nothing to Report if no such changes were proposed?
  • Do the Agency and the Union involved in a pilot have to go out and find something to bargain about to report to the President?
  • Since employee satisfaction is a criterion, wouldn’t increasing the grades of people in an organizational unit, work project or tour of duty automatically do that?
  • I’ve always thought bargaining involved people with differing interests each achieving something. Since two of the three criteria for success proposed involve making employees or the union happy, will doing that outweigh the organizational performance criteria?
  • I guess one of my biggest questions is that since its the first time Federal unions will get B(1) bargaining rights on an apparent large scale, will a quid pro quo be required?
  • What concessions can an Agency expect in exchange for movement on these matters? For example, if the Department of Labor agrees to a B(1) proposal might Local 1 stop picketing the Secretary’s events?
  • Since I saw no real mention of actual bargaining in the report, is the goal to find out what the union wants and give it to them?
  • Benjamin Franklin said “Necessity never made a good bargain.” If all of this is to make the unions happy, why not just say so and stop wasting type appearing to be deliberative.   Is this the case, you figure it out.

    As always, any perceived opinion in the above is solely my responsibility.


    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.