By Ann Boehm, March 16, 2021

I overheard an agency employee quote the headline above when explaining why a supervisor left his job for another position. The supervisor couldn’t deal with the union any longer.

This is a sad statement. And yet, I’ve heard it before. Heck, I’ve felt that way myself at various times during my career.

Many of you are probably nodding your heads in agreement. But that’s not the way it is supposed to be. And with a pro-union Administration, what’s an agency manager, labor relations specialist, or attorney to do?

If you read my articles, you know by now that I am a hopeless optimist. When drafting this article, I wanted to help those of you in the trenches deal more effectively with the unions, so that you don’t want to leave your jobs.

We know that Congress stated in 5 U.S.C. §7101(a) that collective bargaining “safeguards the public interest” and “contributes to the effective conduct of public business,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the supervisor mentioned above. Causing an agency supervisor to leave a job does not seem to be in the public interest. (OK, it could be if the supervisor is a real jerk, but I did not get the sense that was the case with this individual.)

We also know that President Biden’s Executive Order 14003 says, “it is also the policy of the United States to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining.” The President believes that  in supporting the “[c]areer civil servants” who “are the backbone of the Federal Workforce” and “necessary for the critical functioning of the Federal Government,” unions must be empowered.

But aren’t managers and supervisors necessary for the critical functioning of the Federal Government? Of course. There needs to be a balance between labor and management. Creating that balance, however, is an age-old dilemma.

In an effort to help, I’ve thought of some things I believe may help everyone work effectively together (remember – I’m a hopeless optimist).

1 – Read the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute). Yes, the whole thing. It’s right here. Don’t be frightened. I just re-read the whole thing and timed myself. It took me 15 minutes. You may not understand every word of it, and you don’t need to become an expert on what it says, but it may help you better understand how labor and management are supposed to interact.

Why am I telling you to do this? Because knowledge is power. The Statute is the basic rulebook for all things labor-management relations in the Federal government.

Believe it or not, sometimes even well-meaning unions do things that are contrary to what the Statute says. But if the managers and supervisors dealing with them don’t know that, they just feel like the darn union is too hard to handle.

2 – Read the entire collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This may be more of a time commitment. Although it boggles my mind, the reality is that many of you have to work with 300-plus page CBAs!?! But if you don’t know what it says, you are at the mercy of the union officials who tell you their interpretation. At least skim it and focus in on the areas that seem to arise most frequently with your bargaining unit employees.

3 – Be prepared to fight the union if they legitimately are violating either the Statute or the CBA. That’s the main reason the FLRA exists – to resolve disputes between the agencies and unions. If you complete steps one and two, above, you will be better positioned to challenge the union when it’s legally appropriate.

4 – Stay mission focused. This should be the mantra for all Federal employees – bargaining unit members, managers and supervisors, attorneys, labor and employee relations specialists. Everyone! If you can assert that any union activities are interfering with the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission, you will be better positioned for any potential litigation (and heaven forbid, media interest).

5 – Communicate with the union. Remind them of the agency’s mission. Let them know you have read the Statute and the CBA. Understand that sometimes they will have good ideas that could make the workforce happier and more effective. Tell them, logically and legally, when they are putting bargaining unit employee rights ahead of the rights of the American people on whose behalf you are obligated to serve.

I hope all of this helps. I know the unions feel vindicated by this Administration after feeling attacked by the last one. It is probably frustrating. Stay strong. And I hope none of you want to leave your jobs because you are tired of dealing with the union! [email protected]


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