GOP Senator blasts Bush plan to dissolve labor partnerships

A Republican lawmaker on Thursday urged the Bush administration to retain President Clinton's executive order establishing labor-management partnerships, calling the relationships fundamental to solving the government's workforce problems. During a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing on the government's human capital crisis, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said that labor-management partnerships are crucial when it comes to recruiting and retaining a talented federal workforce. "If labor and management are not moving together, [workforce] reforms won't go very far," he said. Voinovich is chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia. The Bush administration has drafted an executive order that dissolves labor-management partnerships created by President Clinton in 1993. The proposed order revokes Executive Order 12871, which requires agencies to establish partnership councils to increase union involvement in agency decision-making. Asked after the hearing if he thought the Bush administration was playing politics, given that unions supported Vice President Al Gore during the presidential election, Voinovich said, "The election is over." Labor-management partnerships, he said, are good for government.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), also urged Bush to keep the Clinton executive order in place. "NTEU and its agency partners have had much success, following the tenets of the partnership executive order, in improving service to taxpayers throughout the federal government," said Kelley. The union often cites its relationship with the IRS as an example of a successful labor-management partnership. "The benefits of employees having pre-decisional involvement are well-documented at the IRS," Kelley said. "President Bush should heed this evidence and continue the cooperative and positive nature that marks federal employee-management relations." The White House did not return calls seeking comment on whether Bush will revoke Clinton's order.

A recent report from the conservative Heritage Foundation encouraged Bush to dissolve partnerships, arguing that Clinton's order undermines and weakens the authority of federal managers.

One of the report's authors, criticized E.O. 12871 for promoting false hopes of success in labor-management partnerships, ultimately leaving many people unhappy. "The executive order raised a lot of false expectations that you can legislate labor-management partnerships and arrive at warm, fuzzy results," said George Nesterczuk, vice president of Global USA Inc. and a co-author of the Heritage report. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with labor unions and federal management sitting down before formal negotiations, but if they expect an executive order to do it for them, it's not going to happen." Nesterczuk is a former director of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Civil Service. Last October, Clinton asked all agencies to report on their efforts to comply with the 1993 order. The report, released by the Office of Personnel Management in January, found that labor-management partnerships were improving, but are far from perfect. The Bush administration is also circulating two other draft executive orders on labor issues. One would notify employees of their rights regarding payment of union dues, and the other prohibits agencies from requiring contractors to enter into agreements with unions.

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