On February 25, 2015, Member Patrick Pizzella wrote a dissent in a case involving abusive behavior by a union representative. The parties were the Border Patrol and an American Federation of Government Employees’ Border Patrol Council local union president. (The FLRA decision is available in its entirety at the end of this article.)
The facts as reported in the decision were that the local president threw a form on the floor in his supervisor’s office and as a result of that, and another unspecified matter, was suspended for two days and charged with unprofessional conduct.
An arbitrator sustained the charge of unprofessional conduct but not the other charge and dropped the suspension to one day. The union appealed the arbitrator’s decision.
The majority members of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) reversed the arbitrator finding that the local president acted within the umbrella of “protected activity,” an extremely broad concept as defined by this Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).
What Did FLRA Say?
Read the decision for yourself, but my take was that the majority members were essentially of the opinion that the behavior was no big deal since they (FLRA) had condoned much worse acting out by union representatives in the past as Mr. Pizzella’s dissent points out.
Member Pizzella‘s dissent identifies union misconduct that FLRA has previously condoned:
- A union representative, telling a supervisor, “f— you, I don’t give a f—!”
- A male union representative (much larger than his female supervisor) physically “attack[ing]”his supervisor in “an assault and battery” that was “so forceful . . . [the supervisor] felt compelled to retreat from him.” The union representative followed his supervisor and forced her to “arch backward over a counter” “with his stomach pressed up against her . . . belly to belly and toe to toe, in [the supervisor’s face].”
- A male union negotiator yelling at a female management negotiator, “the FLRA will shove this up your a–,” “I don’t give a f— what you think,” “[y]ou can’t be that f—–g stupid, lady,”and (just in case she did not get the message that he was angry) “[y]ou can suck my d—[!]”
- A union representative “discuss[ing]” with several other “[u]nion officials” his plan to write and file a false “incident report” accusing a manager of threatening to “shoot” union representatives. The union representative filed the false incident report.
- A 230-pound union representative yelling at and “pointing his finger right in [the] face”of his “diminutive” female supervisor, while leaning over her “[thirty]‑inch-wide desk” where she was “seated.” The union representative was angry because the supervisor had denied a single one-hour request for official time from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. because he had “work to do” before he left for other representational duties at 8:00 a.m., a request that she previously had approved.
What’s Important Here?
I have met many human resources specialists, managers and supervisors who have experienced such abuse only to be told that nothing could be done based on FLRA’s decisions. I have personally been exposed to similar antics by unions, not as the FLRA majority claims by impulsive behavior but because the climate set by FLRA encourages the unions to treat Agency staff badly.
Neither of the majority members have ever represented an Agency in bargaining or other labor relations activity with a Federal union. Correct me if I’m wrong, but very few FLRA members have ever sat across the table from a Federal union except in the case of certain FLRA members whose only experience is as the union’s advocate in an unfair labor practice case.
Most of us who represent a Federal Agency in negotiations or hearings have, of necessity, developed thick skins. That doesn’t excuse or condone the behavior. I do not believe wearing a union hat gives anyone the right to abuse another person nor do I believe that those sworn to act in the country’s interest on behalf of an Agency should be subjected to it.
This FLRA appears ideologically mandated to excuse virtually any union bad behavior. The enormous paternalism of FLRA’s opinions in such cases is despicable and the misbehavior happens frequently thanks to FLRA’s failure to hold unions accountable for it.
The other travesty is that the union representatives are using government time and other resources to advance this misconduct. In other words, Agencies are paying them, thanks to FLRA, not only to abuse people but to defend that abuse.
Options Available to Agency Representatives
The Federal Courts have not been as tolerant of union misconduct as has the FLRA. In a 2002 case involving AFGE and the Air Force, the Court overturned a decision in which the Federal Labor Relations Authority found the Air Force committed an unfair labor practice when it disciplined a union officer for engaging in an attack on a supervisor. The court declared the FLRA’s ruling “preposterous”.
Federal Agencies should consider how they, not the FLRA, should support and defend their representatives who are subject to abuse by a union. Taking on the misconduct with appropriate discipline every time it happens sends a message to staff as well as to the union. Taking the FLRA to court every time it supports union misconduct might make it understand an Agency’s resolve to have its staff treated with the dignity these folks deserve from the government to which they devote their careers.
Also consider a policy of not sitting silent at a bargaining table or other occasion if it occurs. Walk away.
I can say with the certainty of experience that the bottom line is that unions need Agencies more than Agencies need unions. Create a price for mistreatment. The sad part is that in most cases union representatives are accountable to absolutely no one other than like-minded abusers. This is the fault, largely, of our twisted Federal labor relations program as envisioned and fostered by an FLRA which is also unaccountable except for its current politically driven agenda.
Mr. Pizzella has pointed out a serious injustice which the majority members cloak in the form of “protected activity”. Having worked as an Agency manager, he gets it. The unions and FLRA’s majority also miss the point that no one who has been subjected to this bad behavior forgets it.
President Jimmy Carter’s labor law has not stood the test of time and this writer believes that few career managers would protest either major revisions or even repeal to resolve problems such as those raised by Mr. Pizzella in the case cited above.
In all of this, keep in mind what Goethe said, “Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image”. Federal union representatives often forget that every time they engage in this behavior they are “branding” their organization.
My articles are always my view and should not be read to represent the view of any other person.