OPM Asks FLRA for Decision on Letting Folks Quit the Union Quickly

OPM has asked FLRA to issue guidance on precedent for revoking federal employees’ union dues assignments. Interested persons can comment on the situation.

On July 12, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) issued a Press Release addressing publication of its “Notice of Opportunity to Comment on a Request for a General Statement of Policy or Guidance on Revoking Union-Dues Assignments” in the Federal Register.

According to the Notice, the Office of Personnel Management has asked FLRA to rethink its precedents on when a bargaining unit employee who is a union member may make a dues revocation decision and when the revocation becomes effective.

A Bit of Background

Here’s what the Federal labor relations law says, in pertinent part (like that? Me too):

5 U.S. Code § 7115.Allotments to representatives

(a) If an agency has received from an employee in an appropriate unit a written assignment which authorizes the agency to deduct from the pay of the employee amounts for the payment of regular and periodic dues of the exclusive representative of the unit, the agency shall honor the assignment and make an appropriate allotment pursuant to the assignment. Any such allotment shall be made at no cost to the exclusive representative or the employee. Except as provided under subsection (b) of this section, any such assignment may not be revoked for a period of 1 year.

(b) An allotment under subsection (a) of this section for the deduction of dues with respect to any employee shall terminate when—

(1) the agreement between the agency and the exclusive representative involved ceases to be applicable to the employee; or

(2) the employee is suspended or expelled from membership in the exclusive representative.” (My emphasis)

Over the years since the law passed (1978), FLRA has visited the issue of dues revocation a number of times. Basically, it said:

  • Since the contract called for a union signature on a dues revocation form (SF 1188), the Agency improperly processed the form.
  • Union and Management may bargain the intervals within which dues may be revoked consistent with 5 USC 7115 (above).
  • Repeatedly, that an employee may quit the union after the first year of membership and contrary proposals are nonnegotiable.

So What’s the Big Deal?

Apparently the legal eagles at OPM read a recent Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) in which the high court found that the state (Illinois) law permitted an “agency shop” concept in which non-union members who are included in a bargaining unit must pay fees for representation violates those employees’ first amendment rights. The Court’s decision says, 

“For these reasons, States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees. The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them. Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.(My emphasis)

So, OPM is asking FLRA to revisit whatever precedents exist that stand in the way of a dues revocation upon submission of the form to the Agency. FLRA in the Federal Register Notice cites OPM’s request to them (FLRA): 

1. The constitutional principles clarified in Janus have general applicability to agencies and labor organizations in the area of federal employees’ requests to revoke union- dues assignments under Section 7115(a) of the Statute; and 

2. Consistent with Janus, upon receiving an employee’s request to revoke a previously authorized union- dues assignment, an agency should process the request as soon as administratively feasible, if at least one year has passed since the employee initially authorized union-dues assignment from the employee’s pay. (My emphasis)

FLRA is asking those with an interest in this matter, or anyone who would like to, I guess, to comment on whether or not it should issue a “General Statement of Policyand Guidance” and, if so, what it should say. 

I must admit when I read Janus, it never occurred to me that there was a Federal sector link, but I now see why OPM wants to get FLRA to rule on this. I don’t think there will be a large impact even if FLRA throws out the precedent and renders existing contrary contract language illegal.

Apparently with or without a statement from FLRA, Agencies are free to put unions on notice that contrary contract language is unenforceable and employees on notice that their SF-1188s will be processed whenever an individual has been on dues withholding in excess of 365 days or perhaps 364 if it was a leap year.

Again, all of the above that is opinion is solely mine. I’m sure the trolls will blame someone for the obvious conspiracy to undermine Federal unions that this decision represents. 

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.