How the President Is Using FLRA to Attack Federal Employees and Purge Unions

Categories: The Insider

The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) was created by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, which allows federal employees to join a union and collectively negotiate with their agencies on issues affecting working conditions. The FLRA’s job is to implement the law and promote effective labor-management relations. Federal employee unions go to the FLRA to challenge agencies’ unfair labor practices (ULPs) or failures to follow their own policies, among other things.

But under the anti-worker Trump administration, the FLRA’s mission has been skewed to reflect the administration’s political agenda of decimating the federal workforce and purging your union.

Here’s what you need to know about the administration’s efforts to destroy federal sector unions through the FLRA.

1.They are crippling the process

The FLRA is tasked with adjudicating ULP charges and deciding cases concerning bargaining negotiability, union election and representation matters. The agency’s General Counsel then enforces the agency’s findings. But the administration refused for two years to appoint a General Counsel to the FLRA, putting employees who have been wronged in limbo. Agencies can refuse to comply and get away with it.

This already happened at the Education Department. Our union last year won a ULP case in which the Education Department was found to have unilaterally imposed its own illegal edict on 3,900 federal employees. Using the FLRA’s lack of a General Counsel as an excuse, the department has refused to comply and is getting away with their union-busting activities.

And when the administration nominated someone to fill the position, it made sure to tap an anti-worker, heavily-biased candidate to be the general counsel.

The administration’s pick is Catherine Bird, principal deputy assistant secretary for administration at the Department of Health and Human Services. The general counsel position requires neutrality in prosecuting cases, but Bird, who oversees contract negotiations at HHS, has repeatedly engaged in illegal bargaining tactics and has no regard for employee rights, resulting in multiple ULP charges filed against her. She has also provided unauthorized, anti-worker counsel to at least one other agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been in contract negotiations with AFGE.

Our union is urging senators to oppose her confirmation.

2. They are throwing out existing contracts

The FLRA has another component: The Federal Service Impasses Panel, which resolves impasses in contract negotiations. If the union and the agency can’t reach an agreement during contract negotiations, either party or both parties can request the panel’s assistance. The current FSIP is stacked with Trump-appointed members.

Following Trump’s anti-worker executive orders, agencies have abandoned contract negotiations with AFGE in a rush to send the cases to the stacked FSIP, which has repeatedly ruled against our union under this administration.

Earlier this year the Trump panel ruled in favor of Social Security Administration (SSA) management and enforced contract provisions that summarily strip workers of rights and protections gained through decades of negotiations with prior administrations.

The Trump panel allowed SSA to eliminate over 1,400 memorandums of understanding and supplemental agreements that were previously part of the collective bargaining agreement. It allowed SSA to deny union officers the office space currently provided by the agency, slash by 80% the amount of time union representatives can spend representing employees, and allow management to unilaterally exclude employees from telework, among other things.

The Trump panel also issued a ruling earlier this year rubber stamping the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s anti-worker contract negotiations ground rules.

AFGE filed lawsuits against the Trump panel for its illegal decisions, arguing that the panel, which currently has six members, doesn’t have the power to decide cases because, by law, it is required to have seven members. Our union is asking the court to void those decisions.

3. They are cutting staff, closing offices

The Trump administration is also attacking workplace and union rights by cutting the FLRA’s staff and closing its offices. Despite an enormous workload of serving 2.1 million employees, the administration last year closed two regional offices in Dallas, Texas, and Boston, Mass., forcing employees to relocate, retire early, or quit.

Both agencies and unions can file a ULP. As more than 90% of ULPs are filed by unions and they are mostly filed in regional offices, closing two offices is a clear attempt by the Trump administration to undermine unions’ ability to represent employees. Dallas also has the second largest number of federal employees outside of the Washington, D.C. area.

The FLRA is carrying out its mission with a tiny workforce, which has been reduced by nearly half since 2000 – from 215 to about 120 today. The administration wants to reduce staffing even further, requesting funding for only 115 employees in 2020. The administration is also seeking to cut the budget from $26.2 million this year to $24.8 next year, limiting the agency’s ability to accomplish its mission and making the government less responsive to the American people.

We can’t let them get away with it

From the anti-worker executive orders to the hostile FLRA, the Trump administration’s ultimate goal is to destroy federal-sector unions. We will not stand for it. An attack on our union rights and our voice at work is an attack on democracy itself.

Join our campaign to fight these threats to our democratic system and voice at work!

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