He favors renewing the labor-management partnerships that brought managers and union leaders together to debate issues during the Clinton administration.
“Labor relations were weak to nonexistent [during the Bush administration]. The partnership has dried up, and we need to revitalize it,” Berry told the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia last week.
In an interview after the hearing, Berry said he hasn’t broached the issue of partnerships with the White House yet.
“I want to have at least one more face-to-face meeting with unions, then take my recommendations up with the president,” Berry said, adding that he plans to meet regularly with federal unions to hear concerns.
In his first week on the job, Berry met for hours with leaders of employee groups, including the National Treasury Employees Union, American Federation of Government Employees and National Federation of Federal Employees.
And union leaders say they’re optimistic about continued cooperation.
“He said he wants to have an open-door policy — if I have policy concerns on how NFFE feels on issues affecting the federal government, I should give him a call, and vice versa,” NFFE national President Richard Brown said.
During the discussions, union leaders brought up their concerns regarding pay for performance, benefits for domestic partners and collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Administration employees.
NTEU President Colleen Kelley said Berry’s meeting was a “new day” for union-agency relations and she’s pleased to hear talk of bringing back partnerships.
“We believe in inclusion. We don’t know what they’ll call the partnerships, and we don’t care what they call it. We just want to be in the conversations and have the experience of front-line employees be tapped,” she said.
Members of Congress used the hearing to air their own grievances. Ranking member Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told Berry he hoped he would reform pay for performance but not abolish the concept.
“The General Schedule system is clearly broken, but pay for performance as currently implemented shows that we’ve got a long way to go in figuring out how to properly incentivize our federal employees,” he said.
Berry agreed that a pay system needs to be created to merge various agency pay scales and ensure fairness. Agencies opting out of the GS system to create their own pay systems have created confusion and inequities, he said.
“We have workers sitting side by side doing the same job being paid differently, and I can’t defend that with a straight face,” he said. “At some point, we’ve got to come back and say what works and design a system that works for the majority of workers.”
Berry also said he wants to reform the hiring system and the process of applying for positions on USAJOBS.gov, simplifying job qualifications and making the federal government less intimidating.