Presidential transitions can be rough for agencies or unions trying to resolve labor disputes. This transition is no exception.
The bargaining process in the federal sector often takes many months or years for a variety of reasons. The current disarray may extend that process. Here is why.
Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP or Panel)
For those who are not familiar with how the federal labor relations program works, the FSIP is an integral part of resolving bargaining disputes between agencies and federal employee unions. If they cannot reach agreement, a dispute will ultimately go to the FSIP for a final resolution if necessary.
If bargaining between the parties, followed by mediation assistance with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service does not result in a voluntary agreement, then either party (or the parties) jointly are free to request the Panel’s assistance.
Current Status of the FSIP
Currently, no decisions are being issued by the FSIP. The reason is that there needs to be four members appointed in order for cases to be issued. There are normally 7 members. At the moment, there are not any Panel members.
According to Kimberly Moseley, the Executive Director at the FSIP, Panel members were discharged with a letter from the White House dated May 18. The staff at the Panel was not aware of the letters having been issued, and the letters were apparently not received until after May 18. Therefore, actions taken by the Panel members who had been discharged will not be effective.
Case Processing Without a Quorum
An agency representative informed FedSmith that his agency received a letter dated in early June referencing a decision that had been issued by the Panel after May 18th. As the decision was issued after May 18th, the decision letter was invalid and, presumably, will be held in abeyance until at least four Panel members are appointed. Senate confirmation is not required.
The Impasses Panel still receives cases daily. There are currently 15 cases awaiting a Panel decision.
When a new case is received, it is assigned to a staff member who investigates the case and prepares the case for resolution. There are two staff attorneys at the Panel in addition to the executive director and an administrative assistant.
Why Does the FSIP Exist?
Federal employee unions do not have the right to strike. There are also significant restrictions on what can be negotiated by a federal union with an agency.
The Civil Service Reform Act embodied the Federal Service Impasses Panel into law as an alternative to a union’s right to strike. A strike can be used in the private sector as a way to obtain concessions from a company. The Panel is an impartial third party that resolves federal bargaining disputes through an administrative process as a way to keep the federal government functioning and to minimize labor disruptions.
When Will Members Be Appointed?
The staff at the Panel does not know when new members will be appointed. It could occur quickly as Senate confirmation is not required.
We do not know why the decision was made to remove all Panel members at once and to create a body of new appointees. If there is not an agreement during labor negotiations, any new agreement is usually held up until a Panel decision is issued. The agency will continue to function without a new agreement. There are, however, cases when a decision may benefit an agency depending on the subject(s) that are being bargained.
Under the Obama administration, appointees to federal human resources positions sometimes went to people previously employed by a union or from other positions likely to be sympathetic to the unions’ point of view. That is less likely to occur with a Republican in the White House whose election was vigorously and publicly opposed by most federal employee unions.
In other words, the union support for Barack Obama during his election campaign probably helped federal employee unions in a number of ways. However, becoming an active political organization cuts both ways. In 2017, the strong union support for Hillary Clinton will not be helpful.