FLRA Town Hall Meeting in DC: Unions Ecstatic with LR Agency

The author passes on to the Federal labor relations community notes of the FLRA Town Hall meeting held on October 21. There’s lots of information in them for practitioners.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority held a town hall meeting in Washington, DC on October 21, 2010. While Chairman Pope is not mentioned in the notes, other key FLRA officials both made presentations and answered questions.

Below are the notes as I received them. Thanks to the anonymous note taker on behalf of practitioners who read FedSmith. I’ll have some brief comments at the end.


FLRA Office of General Counsel (GC) Town Hall


Oct 21, 2010

Welcome: Barbara Kraft, New Regional Director, DC Region


  • Dennis Walsh, Deputy GC
  • ULP Case Law Outline Part of FLRA GC’ initiative to restore information resources

3 Steps:

  1. Repost the Joe Swerdzewski-era historical resources
  2. Update and repost materials
  3. Keep materials up-to-date

Access ULP Case Law Outline through FLRA web site:

  • Go to OGC web page
  • Scroll to list of resources at bottom of page
  • Listed under “Case Law Outline”
  • Limited, at present, to ULP cases
  • Not intended to be fully comprehensive, addresses most common issues
  • Intended as research tool, not primary authority
  • Don’t cite the outline
  • Read the cases
  • Table of Contents hyperlinked to the body of the outline
  • Organized by topic, following the template of the statute
  • Hypertext-linked to the statute, regulations, and cases
  • Will be updated, as needed

Richard Zorn, Assistant GC for Appeals

Access Manual through FLRA website:

  • Go to OGC web page
  • Scroll to list of resources at bottom of page
  • Listed under “Manuals”
  • Designed as “soup-to-nuts” reference
  • 5 parts, by function
  • Hypertext-linked to statutes, regulations, and cases
  • Will be updated, as needed
  • Please email [rzorn@flra.gov] with any errors/problems or suggestions.

James Abbott, Chief Counsel to Member Thomas Beck

Guide to Arbitration http://www.flra.gov/webfm_send/345 :

      •  Go to Arbitration in Case Types, then select Guide to Arbitration
      •  Collaborative effort, aimed at commonly-encountered problems
      •  Highlights procedural changes:
        • Calculating 30-day filing limit [begins day following service]
        • Filing requirements
        • Service by E-mail, if permitted by CBA
          •  If served by more than one method, earliest controls
          •  Table of contents if submission exceeds 10 pages
          •  Expedited, abbreviated decision
            • Available if requested by the excepting party
            •  Other party may oppose or support
            •  Authority may order on its own motion
          • Need to cite, but not supply readily accessible document
          • eg.
            decisions, statutes, regulations contained in CFR
          • Forms
            • Optional use
            • Good checklist, to assure compliance w/rules
            •  Page 17 of the Guide has links to the forms

Roundtable discussion — Participants: Mary
Jacksteit, Chairman, FSIP, Thomas Beck, Member FLRA, and Julia Adkins Clark,
FLRA General Counsel.

Initial Presentations:

— Member Beck:

  • When confirmed 2 years ago, noted 3 primary problems:
  • (1) Underfunding, (2) Understaffing, (3) Big backlog

– Since then:

  • 14.5% increase in funding
  • 19% increase in staff [91% at member component]
  • 46% reduction in backlog
  • 270% increase in productivity [cases decided]:
  • FY07-52, FY08-60
  • FY09-215, FY10-222

Chairman Jacksteit:

      • FSIP is small agency with simple procedures and lots of discretion
      • 7 part-time members add up to 1 full-time equivalent
      • 2 years ago — 73-case backlog, no panel for 7 months
      •  Decided to leverage member/staff experience, depart from requirement                         of slow, written submission
        • Use informal conferences [mediation/arbitration]
        • Delegate authority to individual members/staff to med/arb
      • Result:
        • Backlog eliminated by last April, only working current cases [36]

        • 63 resolutions [plus many partial resolutions] this year
      • Procedures:
        • ADR Guide is on the web
          • Simple procedures, no secrets, geared to assisting parties to reach agreement
          • We’d rather not order contract language, we will, if forced
          • Goal is to facilitate, not end the collective bargaining process
          • Mediation/Arbitration is final – no appeal to full panel
            • But we’ll give you reality checks
          • Do you really want to me to consider
            changing AWS b/c commander dislikes it?
          • If not resolved w/ADR, look first at jurisdiction – Is there an impasse?
          • May send to a paid arbitrator, ask him/her for  recommendations.
            • May send you back to bargain, if we don’t think parties bargained
            • May send you to FMCS
        • If we have to decide, we’ll ask for final, best offers [not originals]
          • If parties show complete inability, we may order offer selection
          •  Not often, not without plenty of notice it’s coming
          •  Parties expected to take responsibility
            • keep trying, keep bargaining


Ms. Clark:

-OGC is independent investigatory/prosecutorial agency w/7 regional offices

-At confirmation, I promised:

          •  Eliminate backlog in 180 days
          •  Restore information resources within 18-24 months
          •   Restore processing timelines in first term

-Past 2-year focus:

          • Cleared backlog-342 ULP, 800 representation cases in 18                                                              months
          •  Restored information resources, historical stuff, as best we could
          •  New/updated web-based manuals, summaries,  guides
            •  Intended as neutral, state of the law
              • Iterative process
              •  Help us if you note error or have a suggestion
            • 5,600 trained
              • Basic/Advanced training on the Statute
              • Representation case training
              • EO 13522 pairs training, partnering with FMCS
              •  Training of (b)(1) bargaining pilot participants
            • Timeliness
              • Time target for ULP/representation cases = 120 days
                •  On-target 49% in ULPs, 65% with rep cases
            • Problems restoring old target of 90 days
              • 77
                agents then, 43 now, 100 cases per agent
              •  23% increase in filings
              • Possible 40,000 new TSA employees
              • Budget cuts and layoffs increase cases
            • Our goal is still to return to the 90-day target

Question and Answer:


— Thanks for your efforts. Signals a sea change in labor relations. (As you’ll read, this was the first of four or five union representatives that humbly thanked the Authority representatives for all that they are doing for the labor relations
program. I’m sure management felt the same way but chose not to publicly share such heartfelt gratitude.)

— What more can the Authority do about its backlog?

Member Beck: Prioritization is always a balancing act between interests represented
in old and new cases. It’s based on resources. It is what it is. We’re still committed to the
complete elimination of the backlog in 18-24 months. Some good news is that our oldest cases are only 3, rather than 5 years old. We can’t always take the oldest case first, but that’s out general practice. We consider any case older than 180 days to be ‘overage.” It could be
worse – another agency before whom I practiced recently decided as case filed in 1995.


— We have a 32-year old statute, and the workplace has changed since then.  Any thought of reforming the Statute?

Member Back: Nothing serious.


— Regarding arbitrations, what kinds of cases
might be overturned by the Authority under the new standards?

Member Beck: There will always be new views with new members. It would be inappropriate to comment on cases, but I personally believe we’ve done most of the modification of our consideration procedures that we’re going to do.

CPSC: — What training is needed for (b)(1) bargaining pilots?

Ms. Clark: The pilots are intended to produce laboratory conditions in these new procedures, so the consequences can be assessed and measured. Training of participants is part of that, and is required for pilot participants. We train in the process, in interest-based bargaining, and existing procedures, since they will be applied to the pilots.

Senate Counsel: — Regarding pre-decisional involvement, is enough occurring? What is FLRA doing to encourage it?

Ms. Clark: Training is all we can do. It can’t be forced, but must be welcomed by two people of good will. Our 2-day training gives labor/management pairs a framework for making the pilot successful.

PBGCorp: –In prior years, the Authority was often reversed. Do you keep track of your record; do you know your percentage?

Member Beck: I come from a background with the NLRB, which was often reversed. We attempt to apply the law to our cases thoughtfully and in a way that is faithful to its intent. Each time it stings, and we attempt to learn from them and do better.

IFPT: — Thanks for the change in atmosphere at the Authority.

— Is there a plan to return to 77 investigators in OGC?

Ms. Clark: We’re working on it. The new budget, if approved, gives us 4 more. We developed a methodology for objectively justifying the needs we have, and analysis is ongoing to determine an optimal case/agent ratio.

AFGE: — Thanks for righting the ship.

— We’re hopeful bargaining rights will be extended to TSC workers. Are there other things that can be done to deal with this influx of potential unit members and associated increase in grievances?

Ms. Clark: We’ve dealt with large elections before. We’re using the lessons learned from them to prepare for the future, including other sizeable elections, besides a possible TSC election. One of the solutions is electronic voting. It’s faster, less expensive, and produces greater participation.

AFGE: — Thanks for your efforts. I feel like the only non-lawyer here, but I appreciate it.

— There is no training to inform employees. I represent 1,000 employees in 3 bargaining units, and crossing those lines to inform employees is killing me. My boss says I’m under investigation for time card fraud for all the work I’m doing.

Ms. Clark: We are in discussions to make available more widely accessible resources, such as computer-based training. We recognize that people on both sides have full-time jobs and only limited availability for labor relations training.

IBET: — You’re doing a great job.

— Is there any thought to taking this show on the road?

Ms. Clark: We’re already doing it. The first of these town hall meetings was held in Chicago. Now this one; and we have plans for others, consistent with our budget.


“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.” – Voltaire


Whenever I read current FLRA decisions or its general comments, I can’t
help but think that not only civility, as many claim, but neutrality as well is
part of a bygone era. Whether it’s the FLRA’s ongoing decisions to make every management right an appropriate arrangement or the recent arbitration appeal cases in which it abrogates its own obligations to the law, this FLRA has far surpassed the Bush FLRA in its unabashed political agenda.

Look above at the union comments. If either party in labor relations loves the neutral decision maker, watch out! It’s a sure sign that neutrality is no longer an operating principle of that decision maker. I guess I have nobody but myself to blame for holding an expectation in 2009 that the appointment of people to FLRA who had substantial experience might bring things back to a middle ground.   Instead, they have become entranced by the political world of DC like, many have said, a moth to a flame. What FLRA is doing will not make government better only add another layer of obligation to Agencies having great trouble succeeding as it is.

You only need to read the above quote ascribed to someone from AFGE:

There is no training to inform employees. I represent 1,000 employees in 3 bargaining units, and crossing those lines to inform employees is killing me. My boss says I’m under investigation for time card fraud for all the work I’m doing.

Early in the history of the law, it was determined that an employee/union rep could not get official time to represent employees in a unit of which he/she was not a member.  It appears no one sought to set this person straight. Of course not, it wouldn’t be politically correct,  or maybe FLRA figures they’ll just make what the person is doing an appropriate arrangement and all will be well.

As always, any opinion, real or perceived, in the above comments is 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.