Federal Unions Offered Co-Management as Bargaining Limits are Met

Since Federal unions were permitted bargaining under law, most negotiable issues are already in existing union contracts. The author suggests these unions have joined with the Obama administration in an effort to co-manage agencies and encourage the FLRA to “expand” the meaning of the statute. They appear to be succeeding.

Before going further, I think it might be a good idea to look at some
definitions, so here goes.

defines a “Labor Union” as:

An organization of workers formed
for the purpose of advancing its
members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions

Federal labor law at 5 USC § 7103 has a different definition, it states:

“labor organization” means an organization composed in whole or in part of employees, in which employees participate and pay dues, and which has as a purpose the dealing with an agency concerning grievances and conditions of employment, but does not include—

(A) an organization which, by its constitution, bylaws, tacit
agreement among its members, or otherwise, denies membership because of race,
color, creed, national origin, sex, age, preferential or nonpreferential civil
service status, political affiliation, marital status, or handicapping

(B) an organization which advocates the overthrow of the
constitutional form of government of the United States;

(C) an organization
sponsored by an agency; or

(D) an organization
which participates in the conduct of a strike against the Government or any
agency thereof or imposes a duty or obligation to conduct, assist, or
participate in such a strike.”

The National
Labor Relations Act addressing private sector labor relations says at 29 USC § 152

term “labor organization” means any organization of any kind, or any
agency or employee representation committee or plan, in which employees
participate and which exists for the purpose,
in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor
disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work

The AFL-CIO says:

“Labor unions are made up of working people working together
to solve problems, build stronger workplaces and give working families a real
voice. Unionsgive workers a voice on the job about safety,
security, pay, benefits—and about the best ways to get the work done
Union workers earn 30 percent more each week than
nonunion workers and are much more likely to have health and pension benefits.
 Unions give working
people a voice in government. They represent working families before lawmakers,
and make sure politicians never forget that working families voted them into

American Federation of Government Employees(AFGE) says, on its website:

As a labor union, AFGE is in a unique position because
it is not currently afforded the same full scope collective bargaining rights
as workers in the private sector. For this reason
in addition to negotiating working conditions at the bargaining table, AFGE
coordinates a full-scale legislative and political action program to monitor
issues that impact the government work force
. When Congress debates funding
of vital government programs administered to the public by government workers
or tackles employee health care issues, AFGE is on the scene representing its

The Obama
Administration’s National Council on Federal Labor Management Relations says on
its website:

the Federal workforce, both management
and labor seek to serve the public and accomplish Government’s mission in an
effective and efficient manner

defines a “political party” as:

“A political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own
candidates and trying to seat them in political office

Did I Miss Something?

one looks at the two national laws governing Federal and commercial labor
relations, the clear understanding is that unions represent workers in
determining working conditions. If one
uses the Wikipedia definition of political party together with AFL-CIO and
AFGE’s self definitions, aren’t both of these unions now political parties by
their own reckoning? 

And when did unions
put government mission accomplishment ahead of worker representation? Either the National Council or I are missing
something. I hope not to be so arrogant
as to assume its them not me but even a casual reader of the above might ask
whether a sea change occurred while they weren’t looking. 

In a 2011 press release about 2010 data,
the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 6.9% of private sector and 36.2% of public workers (including Federal,
State and Local) were union members.   It
goes on to say that 26.8% of Federal employees are union members which
represented a drop from 2009.

Now we all know that only union members get a say in what a union does. So in the Federal sector, at best, about ¼ of
employees get a say in what AFGE tells the administration about how to better
“serve the public.”

So are the unions each now really a political party, helping
government manage better? What happened
to representing employees on working conditions? I think I might know.

Federal Bargaining Pushes Statutory
Limits with FLRA Help

FLRA’s Chairman who, according to AFGE, owes that union her job, has been leading an effort at her Agency to make what
are reserved management rights negotiable. The FLRA is doing this under the theory
that virtually any union proposal Agencies challenge is “an appropriate
arrangement for employees adversely affected by the exercise of a management
right.” (See DC Circuit Court Slams FLRA in Landmark Decision

Now why should she do such a
thing? It is largely because the Federal
labor law limits on bargaining have been met and unions need to be able to show
prospective members why they should join and current members what is being done
for them. Most Federal contracts now
include the provision of day care, alternate or compressed work schedules, telework
(politically incorrectly referred to as “work at home”), broad leave excusal,
etc., etc., etc. I’m not criticizing
those benefits, merely pointing out that the current Federal labor statute no
longer gets the unions much to crow about.

What can get them something substantial is involvement of unions in
such things as work processes, job classification, work locations and staff
reductions in these difficult times.  

Under the Obama Executive Order creating the national council, Agencies
are obliged to create labor management “forums” at all organizational levels
having unions and pre-decisionally
involve the unions in all workplace matters
. According to the Order’s Section 3(ii), Agencies are
obligated to 

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
under 5 U.S.C. 7106
(My emphasis)

reality, of course, is that only those who are members get a say in what the
unions do in these forums.

essence, unions, without benefit of law, get to bargain (that’s what it is)
over matters the law expressly prohibits. These forums, at least at the Agency level, are composed of political
appointees. Is this a case of
representatives of one political party dealing with representatives of an
allied political party to make government decisions? Sure sounds like it, huh? 

one loves, hates or is neutral about unions, it’s a fact that our
representational form of government passes laws to operate government. The current law was passed by a Democratic
Party President and Congress in 1978. It
reflected the Congress’ will on the matter of Federal labor relations. 

Don’t like it? Change it. The current undermining of the Federal labor
statute substantially subverts the very concept of law and an open
government. Sadly, it’s all too

always, any opinion you deduce from the above 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.