Labor-Management Forums Created in Executive Branch

By SHRM Online staff December 14, 2009

Labor-management forums that will address federal government operations in the executive branch will be created under an Executive Order that President Barack Obama issued Dec. 9, 2009.

The intent is to create nonadversarial forums for managers, employees and employees’ union representatives to discuss federal government operations, according to the order.

“Management should discuss workplace challenges and problems with labor and endeavor to develop solutions jointly, rather than advise union representatives of predetermined solutions to problems and then engage in bargaining over the impact and implementation of the predetermined solutions,” Obama said in the order.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)—the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers—noted that the order represents a positive change from the previous administration.

It “clearly demonstrates to the political and career managers in each agency that the president wants a real change away from the confrontational, anti-union labor relations approach that has been practiced by the managers and labor relations officials over the last nine years,” AFGE National President John Gage said in a news release.

“It will be up to the White House to hold agencies accountable for making the 180-degree turn quickly. We will be holding the Obama administration to their promise to work with us to get America’s work done.”

The forums will complement the government’s existing collective bargaining process and foster collaboration among managers and employees in their job of serving the American people, Obama said in the executive order.

They will be charged with:

  • Helping identify and propose solutions to operations-related problems in the executive branch.
  • Allowing employees and their union representatives to have pre-decisional involvement in all workplace matters to the fullest extent practicable, regardless as to whether those matters are negotiable subjects or bargaining under 5 U.S.C. 7106.
  • Providing adequate information on those workplace matters to union representatives where not prohibited by law.
  • Making a “good-faith attempt” to resolve issues concerning proposed changes in conditions of employment, including those set forth in 5 U.S.C. 7106(b)(1), through labor-management forum discussions.
  • Measuring, in consultation with union representatives, changes in employee/manager satisfaction and organizational performance that resulted from the forums.

AFGE’s Gage noted that the executive order on pre-decisional involvement “is not an end, but a means to an end—the goal is the transformation of how government services can be more effectively delivered in an energized work environment where people feel they are making a difference.”

William R. Dougan, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, also hailed the establishment of the forums, even as he noted that the order does not give federal employee unions everything they wanted.

“We are very pleased to see the Obama administration take meaningful strides to engage the federal workforce,” Dougan said in a Dec. 9, 2009, news release.

“Mandatory bargaining on permissive subjects would have been the home run ball for us, but we didn’t get that. Nonetheless, we are still in a much better place today than we have been for the last nine years” during which he said federal employees “lacked an avenue to contribute ways to make the agencies they work for more efficient and effective.”

While a similar labor-management partnership existed under the Clinton administration, its abolishment was among President George W. Bush’s first acts, according to the NFFE.

The new executive order, he added, is “a good starting point as we move into a much-anticipated era of labor-management cooperation in the federal government.”

Overseeing the Forums

A newly created National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations will oversee the department- or agency-level labor-management forums. Those forums can be adapted from existing councils or committees or created by the head of each executive department or agency subject to the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act.

The Council is to advise the president, as much as is permitted under law, on labor-management relations matters in the executive branch.

It’s also charged with recommending to the president the implementation of several pilot programs within the executive branch “to evaluate the impact of bargaining over permissive subjects.” The order establishes dates the Council must recommend pilot projects to the president and subsequent evaluations of those projects.

The Council will be co-chaired by the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Other nonpaid members, whom the president will appoint or designate, will include:

  • Chair, Federal Labor Relations Authority.
  • A Deputy Secretary or other officer with department or agencywide authority from the five executive departments or agencies not represented on the Council. Each will serve a two-year term.
  • President, AFGE, AFL-CIO.
  • President, National Federation of Federal Employees.
  • President, National Treasury Employees Union.
  • President, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, AFL-CIO.
  • Heads of three other labor unions that represent federal employees and not represented on the Council. They will serve a two-year term.
  • President, Senior Executives Association.
  • President, Federal Managers Association.

“AFGE’s focus will be in working through issues so that the agencies will be better able to advance their missions,” Gage said. “As the Executive Order illustrates, significant improvements in the agencies’ performance will be directly related to how well the managers engage with the unions,” which he said represents about 80 percent of the nonmanagerial eligible government workforce.



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