Ruling upholds results of DHS union election

A Federal Labor Relations Authority office on Wednesday rejected allegations of procedural flaws and bias in an election to determine union representation for about 20,000 Homeland Security Department employees.

The FLRA's Washington, D.C., regional office found that the American Federation of Government Employees did not present substantial enough evidence to support its claims that agency managers and internal processes tilted the election in favor of its opponent -- the National Treasury Employees Union.

The FLRA office directed certification of NTEU as the winner "without any further delay" unless AFGE files an appeal with the full labor board.

AFGE officials are reviewing the decision, a spokeswoman said, and have yet to determine whether they will seek such a review. They would have 60 days, or until March 19, to do so.

The battle between the two major federal labor unions began when the Customs and Border Protection bureau sought to consolidate non-Border Patrol employees -- represented by three different unions based on the agencies they had worked for prior to the March 2003 creation of DHS -- under a single labor group.

In a tally last June, NTEU came out ahead, with 7,369 votes. AFGE received 3,426 votes and the rest of the 11,006 employees who cast ballots selected an option for no union. The third union, which had represented agriculture inspectors, was not on the ballot.

Complaints rejected in Wednesday's decision fell into seven categories, including changes to working conditions that allegedly favored NTEU, the withholding of information that would have helped AFGE's campaign and interference with AFGE efforts to hold meetings with employees during the campaign.

"This decision represents a significant step forward in the unification of CBP's workforce, particularly at the ports of entry," agency spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger said in an e-mail message.

AFGE remained committed to its CBP members -- who came to DHS largely from the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- while it protested the election results, the spokeswoman said.

But NTEU President Colleen Kelley said these employees, along with agriculture inspectors and new hires, are missing out on opportunities while the complaint process plays out.

"I continue to hope that the AFGE leadership will act in the best interest of CBP employees and refrain from further delaying certification [of the election results] with a final, baseless appeal," Kelley said in a statement.

In the meantime, NTEU chapter leaders have been preparing for the new groups of employees they will represent, Kelley said, and are developing proposals for contract negotiations that will be submitted as soon as the election results are certified. A top priority for NTEU will be pursuing foreign language skills award payments for immigration employees, agriculture specialists and other new members.

Other issues that could reach the table include work assignments, bid and rotation procedures, overtime and alternative work schedules.

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