Union Dues, Retirement and Foreign Service

Should withholding union dues continue after a Foreign Service employee retires? In the first policy guidance decision from FSLRB, the answer is “no”.

The Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) has issued its decision on whether the Foreign Service Act requires the Department of State to stop withholding union dues from an employee’s paycheck after the employee retires. This is the first FSLRB case involving a request for a “general statement of policy or guidance.”

Retirement and Withholding Union Dues

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) is a Union representing Foreign Service employees in the five foreign affairs agencies. It argued that terminating union dues withholding from an employee after the employee retires is costing the union money that it should continue to receive. It asked the FSLRB to conclude there is no requirement in the Foreign Service Act that the Department of State automatically terminate an employee’s union dues withholding after an employee retires.

In support of its argument, the Union noted that the same finance office pays current employees and retirees. It argued that Foreign Service employees can voluntarily return to active duty and that many of them do so. In effect, AFSA contended that the retired Foreign Service employees remained as members of the Foreign Service.

AFSA also argued that it continues to represent employees after they retire.

The Department of State did not file a response to the union’s request.

Decision of the FSLRB

The FSLRB granted the union’s request for “interpretation and guidance” in its decision.

The Labor Relations Board concluded  that the Foreign Service Act requires the Agency to terminate an existing dues-withholding assignment when an “individual ceases to receive a salary from the [Agency].” Retirees generally receive “annuities,” and not salaries when they retire.

The Union argued that dues withholding is reinstated if a retiree completes a new authorization form and the withholding should automatically continue after an employee retires. The FSLRB acknowledged the argument but did not agree it was conclusive.

Instead, the FSLRB concluded the Agency could not continue to withhold dues from a retirement annuity based on the same dues-withholding-authorization form authorizing paying the Union dues from to an individual’s salary during active service. Here are excerpts from the Board’s summary of its decision.

We grant the Union’s request and find that § 1018(b)(2) requires the Agency to terminate an existing dues-withholding assignment when a retiring employee stops receiving a salary.

Whenever an employee who has had his/her union dues deducted from salary arrives at the moment of retirement, it must be assumed that he/she continues to believe it had been in his/her interest to maintain both their membership in the union, and the automatic deduction of union dues.

At the time of retirement, the Foreign Service employee’s membership in the union continues without interruption. The Board believes, therefore, that management should facilitate the employee’s option to continue the automatic deduction of dues after the transition from active duty to retirement, if the employee so desires.

What is the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB)

What is the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) and who is impacted by their decisions?

Outside of federal labor relations experts and at least some Foreign Service employees, the existence of the FSLRB and their function is largely unknown.

The FSLRB administers the labor relations program for Foreign Service employees. These federal employees work for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Agency for International Development and the Departments of State, Agriculture and Commerce. There are a small number of decisions issued by the organization and they are posted on the website for the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

The FLRA Chairman is the Chairperson of the FSLRB and he appoints the other two Members. The FSLRB is supported by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) and the General Counsel of the FLRA.

American Foreign Service Association and Department of State, Case No. FS-PS-0002

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47