New Federal Labor Relations Guidance: Back to the Future?

OPM has issued new guidance for agencies on reporting labor relations information.

Earlier this year, President Trump issued three Executive Orders regarding labor relations in the federal government and firing poor performers. A federal court subsequently issued a decision that found significant portions of the Orders to be outside the scope of the president’s authority. That initial court decision has been appealed by the Department of Justice.

While portions of the Orders were found to be outside of the president’s authority, there were portions that remain in effect. Earlier this month, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued new guidance on a portion of the Orders that remain in effect.

A second set of guidance has now been issued by OPM.

New OPM Guidance on Labor Relations

OPM states in its new guidance memo:

Consistent with the vision of the President’s Management Agenda, Executive Order (EO) 13836 – Developing Efficient, Effective, and Cost-Reducing Approaches to Federal Sector Collective Bargaining, signed by the President on May 25, 2018, calls for executive departments and agencies subject to chapter 71 of title 5, United States Code to develop efficient, effective, and cost-reducing approaches to Federal sector collective bargaining.

Reporting Requirements for Agencies

In EO 13836, there are reporting requirements requiring agencies to submit to OPM each term a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and its expiration date as well submitting arbitration awards.

OPM is developing a collective bargaining database to facilitate making CBAs publicly accessible on the Internet.

In the meantime, agencies are directed to:

  • Send to OPM each term CBA currently in effect and its expiration date within 30 days.
  • Submit new term CBAs and their expiration dates to the OPM Director within 30 days of each CBA’s effective date.
  • All documents are to be submitted in optical character recognition text-readable format.
  • Agencies are also directed to submit a Collective Bargaining Agreement Submission Form to OPM.
  • Agencies are also required to complete and attach a Section 508 Conformance Attestation Form attesting to the completion of the conformance standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  • New arbitration awards are to be sent to OPM within 10 business days after receiving an arbitration decision but these do not require Section 508 conformance. Arbitration awards should be sent to

Back to the Future

Agency labor relations officials who have worked in this arena for a long time may have a sense of deja vu.

When the Office of Personnel Management was known as the Civil Service Commission (CSC), there was an office in the agency collecting labor relations data. It included a variety of information such as describing bargaining units throughout the government along with relevant information about the units. Some bargaining agreements were available as well as some significant arbitration awards.

The internet did not exist and no scanning submissions were required. Large books were available to agencies with copies of the information compiled by OPM and, presumably, used by labor relations offices within the government.

The CSC and at least for some years after OPM was formed, OPM would hold meetings for agencies on recent developments in labor relations with presentations by agencies on significant developments. The presentations were to provide agencies with information on trends and developments in the federal labor relations environment, to allow OPM to work with agencies on significant labor relations issues, and to track recent union proposals being submitted to agencies.

With the advent of federal and private sector databases that tracked third-party case decisions, including arbitration awards, the OPM books became less relevant and were eventually discontinued. A different labor relations philosophy under the Clinton administration and the policy of establishing labor-management partnerships were probably also factors in no longer compiling this information for use by agencies.

Future Developments

It is likely there will be further guidance from OPM regarding the Executive Orders issued earlier this year. There also a decision likely to be issued by a Court of Appeals concerning the Trump labor relations Executive Orders in coming weeks or months.

These developments will need to be followed closely to keep up with the changing environment. Stay tuned for the next chapter.

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