Lawmakers Seek to Re-Establish Labor-Management Councils

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. Carolyn Kaster/AP

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would countermand President Trump’s order abolishing agency labor-management councils.

Last September, Trump issued an executive order disbanding the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations and similar forums at agencies across the federal government. In December, the Office of Personnel Management issued a memo to implement the order, which suggested agencies renegotiate or cancel collective bargaining agreements that require such councils.

Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduced the Federal Labor-Management Partnership Act (S. 2340), and Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced a companion bill (H.R. 4878) in the House.

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The bill reconstitutes the national council disbanded by the White House, as well as the agency forums. It also tasks agency councils with providing “systemic” training of managers and union representatives in collaborative negotiations and dispute resolutions.

OPM also told agencies last month to cease reaching out to labor representatives for “pre-decisional” collaboration unless “the cost of doing so brings tangible benefits to the agency.” Labor leaders and observers noted that although the George W. Bush administration took similar action in ending labor-management councils established by President Clinton, the order to cease working with employee groups was unprecedented.

“The message to unions is that it’s really a return to the adversarial basis of collective bargaining that existed from the inception of the labor-management program,” said Robert Tobias, former president of the National Treasury Employees Union and a distinguished practitioner in resident at American University’s School of Public Affairs, in December.

The legislation also pushes back against that directive, requiring the labor-management forums to “allow employees and employee representatives to have pre-decisional involvement in all workplace matters to the fullest extent practicable, without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining.”

Federal employee unions quickly put their support behind the bill. In a statement, National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon cited the councils' impact on improving workplace productivity and avoiding lawsuits and other adversarial disputes.

“Labor-management councils are a simple, common sense way to open the lines of communication between federal employees and their bosses,” Reardon said. “The discussion forums are an ideal place to cordially resolve workplace issues and brainstorm ways to better serve their customers, the American taxpayers.”

American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox said the measure represents a best practice of private industry that should be preserved.

"Most workplace disputes can be resolved without lengthy and costly litigation simply by bringing workers and managers together," he said. "[No] effort to improve governmental performance will be successful if labor and management maintain an adversarial relationship. In an era of downsizing and tight budgets, it is essential for management and labor to develop a stable and productive working relationship."

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