Collective Bargaining for Feds

Mary Barrett
May 27, 2022

According to the federal jobs site, more than half of all federal employees are classified as bargaining unit employees. This means that they are part of a labor union.

The statutorily established, preferred method for federal employees to take part in making decisions about their work environment is known as collective bargaining. It also tends to be the most effective form of involvement before making a decision.

four hands making fists together over a table covered in business supplies

Do federal employees have collective bargaining?

In terms of matters the law requires to be bargained, collective bargaining creates an equal partnership between management and employees, talking via their union representatives.

Collective bargaining agreements can also include provisions specific to that bargaining unit’s work.

There is an independent administrative federal agency enacted by Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (commonly known as the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute or FSLMR) called the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).

The FSLMR supports the right of most federal employees (excluding postal workers) to collective bargaining and participation in making decisions that will affect their work environment, through the labor organizations of their choice.

two hands each holding pens and pointing at documents

The FLRA judges problems raised by representation petitions, unfair labor practice disputes, and exceptions to complaint settlement awards. They also resolve negotiability disagreements brought forward by the parties during collective bargaining.

Another duty of the FLRA is to determine which employees are eligible to form a bargaining unit and share a “clear and identifiable community of interest.”

If there is a group of federal employees not currently classified as a bargaining unit, they can file a petition to have their group recognized as a bargaining unit with the FLRA.

As a bargaining unit, they would then be eligible for representation and the FLRA would oversee an election to choose representation for those employees.

What does the Federal Labor Relations Authority do?

A charge of unfair labor practice is possible if there is a failure to bargain where necessary. Engaging in other behavior that is defined by the FSLMR as unfair labor practice can also result in a charge of unfair labor practice.

One of the things the FLRA is charged with is to investigate and decide the merits of unfair labor practice charges filed by anyone against labor organizations or federal agencies.

If the FLRA decides that the evidence shows that an FSLMR finding was violated, the people involved will be advised and a settlement will be recommended.

six men and women in business suits smiling and shaking hands over a desk

If a settlement isn’t reached, a formal complaint will be issued and a hearing about the matter will be scheduled to go before an FLRA Administrative Law Judge.

Unfortunately, certain types of federal workers are not allowed to form a bargaining unit, by law. These types of employees include:

  • Confidential employees.
  • Employees engaged in personnel or security work.
  • Most people in management or supervisory roles.

However, if their classification as a collective bargaining unit was established before limitations on those units were set in U.S. Code in October 1978, some supervisors and managers are allowed to be in a union.

Who is typically included in the bargaining unit?

Some people automatically become unit employees if they are hired for a bargaining unit position. This means that the union is required to represent them in official meetings with management.

The union is also obligated to negotiate on the employee’s behalf when agency policies concern the nature of their employment. Even if these employees don’t join the union, they are still entitled to those services.

If there is a meeting that may lead to discipline or more formal sessions with management and a bargaining unit representative on employment conditions, employees are entitled to representation.

healthcare workers protesting in the street

The terms of employment for the employees in a bargaining unit are governed by contracts or bargaining agreements between agencies and unions. This includes:

  • disciplinary procedures
  • health and safety measures
  • telework policies
  • the amount of work time union representatives can use to carry out work for the labor organization.

This work time is referred to as official time, and employees with union leadership positions use that time to represent bargaining unit employees. They also use the time to work with agency officials on policy.

What is official time for federal employees?

Unfortunately, in recent years, official time has been a bit controversial. Those against it have said that it causes the agency to spend more in order to hire enough people to perform those duties. They also argue that agencies are forced to pay employees for work that isn’t in their job description.

white letters spelling union against a light blue sky

However, those who approve of official time say that the government actually is saving money on the business conducted during that time. They argue that it prevents grievance procedures from becoming expensive law suits.

They also believe that it ensures that agencies get input from the employees doing the work, which means more efficient operations, and that whistleblowers are protected from retaliation.

At any time, an agency can notify the union that it wants to renegotiate the contract. This results in both parties together going over the clauses with proposed changes. If, however, they aren’t able to agree, they can appeal to the FLRA for a mediator.

If mediation doesn’t work, they can submit an appeal to the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). The FSIP will review the contract proposals and then issue an imposition of contract terms deemed fair.

What do you do if the union isn't helping you?

Unfortunately, collective bargaining doesn’t always work. If you’re a federal employee enduring a hostile work environment, discrimination in the workplace, or whistleblower retaliation and your union hasn’t been able to help you find a good solution, we may be able to help.

Contact the highly experienced federal employee attorneys at Melville Johnson, P.C. today to find out how we can assist you.

This blog and web site published by Melville Johnson, P.C. should not be used as a substitute for seeking competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney. Readers of this information should not act upon any information contained on this blog or website without seeking professional counsel.
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