"There's been a whole generation of practitioners we've missed, in terms of just regular training," said Julia Clark, FLRA's general counsel. "We understand that the parties, both agencies and unions, had stopped coming to our agency because we weren't providing the kind of effective dispute resolution assistance that they really needed. They're coming back, and we want to fill that void. It seems that the first step is to make sure the practitioners are well-versed in their rights and responsibilities."
Clark said during her confirmation hearing in July that she planned to make training a priority for FLRA, which faced a substantial backlog of cases after the Bush administration left key positions in the agency vacant for much of 2008. In an interview with Government Executive on Wednesday, Clark credited FLRA's career staff with moving quickly to restart preliminary training programs.
The sessions, held at FLRA's regional offices, will offer basic and more advanced training in union and management rights and responsibilities under federal labor law. The training presentations already are available on FLRA's Web site for workers who cannot attend the sessions. And Clark said the agency plans to develop a fully interactive online training program based on these initial presentations so federal employees can receive basic training on their own. That would allow the agency to focus its resources on more advanced programs that will build relationships between labor and management organizations, she said.
According to Clark, FLRA has not had to do much work to convince agencies that improving labor relations training is a good idea.
"From my very earliest days with the agency, as I got the opportunity to have conversations with agency representatives [and] chief human capital officers, they initiated the conversation: 'Will you come to us and train our people?' " she said.
Requests flowed in so fast, she noted, that FLRA's budget was not big enough to keep up with the demand. Some of the agencies that sought training ended up absorbing travel and lodging expenses for FLRA staff, she said.
Despite the temporary spike in workload, training programs could eventually reduce the burden on FLRA, Clark said, by better preparing agencies and unions to resolve their own disputes. "We're really in a position to move to the next level to help the parties work with each other and help the parties resolve disputes on their own," she said.