The extreme, anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) tried to bust our union, and they failed.
National Park Service (NPS) employees at Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) in North Carolina voted to continue representation by AFGE, rejecting the special interest group’s many attempts to decertify the AFGE local and take away workers’ rights and protections.
AFGE Local 446 is happy with the result.
“AFGE Local 446, Local 446 NPS members, AFGE organizers and AFGE national representative worked hard and diligently to organize and educate the employees of NPS Blue Ridge Parkway to ensure they understood voting yes for union representation by AFGE Local 446 was the right choice for them,” said AFGE Local 446 President Christine Surrette.
“I’m relieved and I’m very excited,” said NPS employee James Jones, who is also Local 446 vice president for the BPR unit. “We can put to rest finally after almost three years of haggling with management and some folks who are anti-union that work here.”
The election was a result of a petition sponsored by NRTWLDF and filed at the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) Atlanta Regional Office as part of the special interest group’s efforts to bust unions in the public and private sectors across the country.
Targeting the NPS Local
In early 2021, a group of Blue Ridge Parkway employees represented by another union approached AFGE and expressed interest in changing affiliation to AFGE. They filed a petition with the FLRA in February 2021 requesting reaffiliation, which was approved the following month.
Because AFGE already had a local representing another group of Blue Ridge Parkway employees, AFGE Local 446, the union filed a petition requesting a consolidation of the two units to promote effective representation and dealings within the agency and to reduce unit fragmentation. No bargaining unit employees requested an election during the consolidation process or raised objections to the consolidation, which the FLRA approved in September 2021.
But in December, with the backing of the NRTWLDF, a bargaining unit employee filed a petition seeking to decertify the newly consolidated unit. The FLRA’s regional director rejected the petition in March 2022, in keeping with a longstanding policy in federal sector labor relations that prohibits decertification attempts on unions within the first 12 months of certification.
Two months after being promoted to management and no longer meeting the legal requirement to proceed with the case, the employee appealed for a review of the director’s decision by the full FLRA, arguing that the rules did not apply to consolidated units, just union elections. AFGE subsequently filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint against the NPS for knowingly permitting an agency manager to file a petition seeking to decertify the AFGE local representing NPS employees.
The full FLRA granted the review and asked both sides to submit legal arguments. The NRTWLDF recruited another bargaining unit employee to help with its decertification efforts.
The full FLRA in May ruled that FLRA regulations indeed prohibited decertification within the first 12 months of certification after union elections and consolidations of units as the regulations don’t distinguish the two.
The ruling, however, did not stop the union election, which was a result of another decertification petition filed with assistance from the union-busting NRTWLDF one day after the 12-month decertification prohibition ended. To settle the dispute, the Atlanta regional director called for a union election, which had originally been proposed for late 2023 but was moved to June.
AFGE’s campaign to protect workers’ rights
AFGE went all out to win the union election. According to Jones, the national office, the district, and the local poured in the resources to help educate workers and get out the vote. It was a huge undertaking as the Parkway spans 469 miles from Montebello, Virginia, to Cherokee, North Carolina, with employees scattering in a dozen work centers along the way.
Even though employees were familiar with unions, there was some confusion over the consolidation, and union reps were on the ground to help answer questions. The voting period was June 20-July 11, and AFGE urged employees to vote in the first week.
“I think most people understood the circumstances and what was at stake,” Jones said.
Our efforts paid off.
“It was shameful how two bargaining unit employees were duped by NRTWLDF to launch a negative campaign filled with misinformation to dispose of union representation for BRP employees. This effort failed,” said Surrette. “However, Local 446 stands ready to assist ALL bargaining unit employees, even the misguided, with any future issues that arise.”
A path forward
The local and the agency started contract negotiations in May and quickly wrapped up the negotiations as there were not a lot of disagreements.The employees ratified the contract on July 12. It’s now headed for Agency Head Review, which takes 30 days. The local expects a new contract will be in place by mid-August.
Surrette said the local and BRP management will be conducting joint training on the new contract, so union and management will assure that the best interests of the bargaining unit employees are afforded.
“I want to thank all of AFGE for helping us,” Jones added. “They really poured their heart and soul into this campaign. There were a lot of people involved. The General Counsel was involved. The organizers, the M&O folks, district rep Kevin Drost, our local president Surrette. They all did a great job coordinating all this, finally bringing some closure to this nonsense.”