Federal supervisors and managers with labor relations responsibilities face a number of complex issues in this area. Frequently, Agency policies are outdated and guidance is often so affected by political correctness or just plain politics, whether P or p, that getting a coherent or straight answer can be difficult.
Not so for union representatives. I recently went on line and found a number of guides from the various Federal unions that, in many cases, tell the representatives exactly what to do in a given situation.
What Managers Must Commonly Address in a Federal Labor Relations Environment
My top list of issues a manager must regularly deal with in a unionized environment include (in likely order of frequency):
- Providing the union notice of a potential change in working conditions
- Union requests for official time
- Making decisions on whether to invite the union to attend a meeting (formal discussion)
- Dealing with requests for official time
- Addressing discipline or performance issues
- Handling an employee complaint or grievance
- Providing an answer to a union request for information
- Responding to a union allegation of an unfair labor practice
- Dealing with contract interpretation or applications to specific sets of circumstances
- Conducting an investigative interview with an employee
Each of the above has its own set of rules and numerous Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) Cases (some conflicting) on the rights of employees, unions and Agencies in each situation.
Do You Have A Clear Idea What Your Agency Expects of You?
OK. You read the above list. What is your comfort level that you know how to deal with them? If there’s a relatively active union around, whether in your immediate work group or not, you may find out that the union steward has specific instructions on dealing with these same day to day matters and the steward’s understanding may not be the same as yours.
AFGE’s Charter for Stewards
The American Federation of Government Employees’ Steward Manual, for example, is pretty clear about a Steward’s basic role:
“The Steward’s Function
Because Stewards are the most important link between the Local and its members, they must have a good personality, be articulate, and know the Local’s contract. In addition to being the Local’s front line representative, the Steward is an organizer whose personal goal should be the achievement of 100 percent membership in the Local AFGE bargaining unit.
Not unlike the job of a police officer, the function of the Steward is to enforce the ‘Law of the Local,’ or its contract with the agency. The Steward’s ‘beat’ is the office or shop within the Local’s bargaining unit.”
What NTEU Tells Its Stewards
In its Steward guide, the National Treasury Employees Union lists a “Summary of Shop Steward’s Rights” as follows:
“1. To be the exclusive representative of unit employees within any organizational boundaries imposed by the contract or the union.
2. To decide what grievances to file and which to let the employee file without union representation. The union can refuse to represent an employee because it
believes the grievance is unlikely to succeed, it will cost the union too much money or other resources, or it is against the best policy interests of the union. The union steward can also refuse to represent a nonmember in matters outside the contract and collective bargaining
3. To attend any grievance meeting management has with an employee who files without union representation and to be informed of (and agree with) any grievance outcome.
4. To be informed in advance of any formal meeting a manager has with employees to discuss personnel policies, practices and working conditions. To attend the meeting on official time, to ask questions related to the topics the manager raises and to make a brief statement to employees about the union’s position on the issue under discussion.
5. To delay any change management wants to implement until management has notified the union, bargained with it if requested, and reached agreement. The steward can also demand that unilaterally changes be revoked until bargaining is complete.
6. To talk to employees confidentially about union matters, and, if it is during non-work time, to do so without informing a manager of the discussion.
7. To get access to any documentary records management has that are needed to file a grievance, negotiate or otherwise make a representational decision.
8. To be free of retaliation, coercion or other interference for exercising any right as well as to have reasonable accommodations made to his or her workload for the time spent on official time.
9. To file grievances on behalf of unit employees.
10. To be treated by management as an equal and to engage in robust debate.”
Why Should the Manager Care?
The more you deal with the union, the more you should know about their goals, beliefs and approaches to issues in the workplace. Following are links to union guides you’ll find interesting if your employees are represented by that particular union. The others are worth a look as well.
American Federation of Government Employees’ Steward’s Guide (From national website)
National Treasury Employees Union Steward’s Guide (From a union local website)
NTEU Grievance Guide (From a union local website)
National Federation of Federal Employees’ Steward’s Resources Page (From national website)
International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Steward Resource Guide (From a union local website)
As always, any comments are my responsibility alone. Stay tuned, I have some other union guides (e.g., negotiations etc.) to share in upcoming articles.