The Federal Labor Relations Authority has issued three new rulings regarding federal employee unions. What’s not new is their disregard for the rights of union members.
Members from multiple federal unions, including the IBEW, gathered outside the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, DC in early 2019 to protest the government shutdown that impacted hundreds of thousands of workers across the country.
The decisions, which Government Executive reported as overturning decades of precedent and hampering the ability of unions to negotiate, deal with the standard for what triggers a duty to bargain, what can happen during mid-term bargaining, and how expiring union contracts are handled. The rulings, handed down in early October, were decided along party lines by a majority-Republican board.
“These decisions further degrade employee rights and union rights in the federal sector,” said Government Employees Department Director Paul O’Connor. “Taken as a whole, when you combine these new, anti-union FLRA rewrites and reinterpretations with other Trump rewrites and reinterpretations, obviously, Trump’s goal is to destroy federal labor unions and demoralize our national workforce by stripping away rights and benefits and silencing the collective voice of federal employees.”
The first decision changes the standard for when an agency policy change triggers a duty to bargain, effectively raising the bar and making it more difficult for unions to protect their employees. O’Connor noted that the new standard is a moving target that will require numerous court cases to define. And beyond that, a lot of issues that used to require management to negotiate with unions will now just be imposed.
The second ruling determined that federal labor law “neither requires nor prohibits mid-term bargaining” and makes zipper clauses, which limit negotiations during the term of a union contract, mandatory subjects of bargaining.
“By making the zipper clause negotiable, the FLRA is saying, ‘Unions, if you want it in your contract, you need to negotiate it in.’ That usually means, to put something in, you need to give something up,” O’Connor said.
He also pointed out that the Civil Service Reform Act states that “labor organizations and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest” and that the CSRA draws no distinction between initial collective bargaining agreement negotiating and mid-term negotiating.
“The FLRA’s change presumes mid-term negotiating is not in the public interest. which flies in the face of decades of precedent and the law,” O’Connor said.
The third ruling states that when an expiring contract is renewed indefinitely while parties negotiate a new one, that is effectively a new agreement and subject to agency head review. Usually, O’Connor said, parties agree to rollover the existing CBA until negotiations on the new version conclude. Not so with the new interpretation. O’Connor says the agency head could conceivably shoot down the rolled-over CBA – the same one they would have approved when it was initially negotiated.
“A lot remains to be seen, but I’m envisioning having to renegotiate the rolled-over CBA while the new CBA is being negotiated or the rolled-over CBA being voided altogether,” O’Connor said. “Either option would leave the employees and unions extremely vulnerable with little recourse.”
The new language also allows management to impose current government-wide rules and regulations into those rolled-over CBAs, further opening the door for limiting employee rights.
“What we don’t know yet is if the changes will affect current rolled-over CBAs or only rolled-over agreements that will begin after the date of implementation,” O’Connor said. “What we do know, however, is that this is an extremely dangerous decision by the FLRA.”
These rulings follow on the heels of earlier attacks on workers by the Trump administration. The National Labor Relations Board has issued an onslaught of anti-union orders, all conspiring to make it harder to have rights and protections on the job. And despite the rising toll of infections and deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has done next to nothing to protect workers from the deadly virus.
The IBEW is part of the Federal Workers Alliance and has been reaching out to members of Congress on the new rulings, O’Connor said, and he emphasized the importance of remembering these attacks – and their numerous predecessors – when voting this year.
“It is imperative that we connect the dots from all these adverse policy changes and executive orders all the way back to Trump and the people he put in charge to impose all this carnage,” O’Connor said. “IBEW members need to know where all these anti-union changes originated so they can make informed decisions at the polls, up and down the ballot, on Nov. 3.”