The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) of Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) has announced a new policy on conducting representational hearings by using videoconference facilities.
Part of the FLRA’s mission is resolving issues regarding union representation of employees. This includes conducting union elections and deciding which employees will be included in the unit of employees that a union represents (the “bargaining unit”).
While Federal agencies are maximizing telework due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the OGC at the FLRA has issued interim guidance to its Regional Directors on conducting representation hearings by videoconference. The OGC considers this to be an extraordinary step but wants to continue resolving representational issues that arise.
An agency press release states that the guidance only applies to the time period in which Federal employees are maintaining “social distance”. It also states that videoconferencing is a limited supplement to more common representation case processing methods—including in-person hearings.
Broader Application Possible?
While the use of videoconferencing is considered a temporary situation, the experiment could prove useful in deciding how effective this technology may work on a broader scale.
The FLRA has closed regional offices in Dallas and Boston in the past two years. Closing of these offices impacted about 16 people in those offices. FLRA Chairman Colleen Duffy Kiko has previously stated in a letter to Congressional leaders regarding the closing of these two offices:
[I]t is important to note that technology has changed significantly since the agency opened its doors in 1979, providing the ability to easily transact business virtually through electronic means. As such, it is no longer as crucial or cost-effective as it was in 1979 for the FLRA to have regional offices and employees in as many geographic locations.
While motivated by the problems in travel and lack of agency personnel working in offices, using videoconferencing in this limited way could prove useful in determining how this technology could be used to further reduce agency expenses.
Most of the FLRA’s budget is spent on employee compensation and benefit costs and rent for office space. About 90% of the agency’s budget is spent on these costs. If videoconferencing is a viable option, it could prove to be one way to further reduce the cost of running the FLRA (and other agencies).