Under the agreement, reached Wednesday with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, all permanent and probationary employees in Band I, Band IIA and Band IIB of GAO's paybanding system will be eligible to vote, the agency and IFPTE announced in a joint statement. Voting will end on Sept. 19.
The results will determine whether 1,500 analysts at GAO will have union representation. The election will mark the first time GAO employees have voted on the issue in the watchdog agency's 86-year history.
"I am very pleased that we have been able to reach an agreement with IFPTE that will result in a timely election," Comptroller General David M. Walker said in a statement. "As I have consistently said, GAO recognizes and supports the right of GAO employees to organize if they choose to do so."
The election announcement marks a strong reversal from earlier this month, when IFPTE General Counsel Julie Clark indicated that under a proposed timeline, an election at the agency would happen no earlier than October, if at all.
GAO managers and the union have spent weeks trying to resolve disputes about the potential makeup of the bargaining unit, largely because of challenges brought by GAO that analysts in Band IIB hold supervisory roles that would make them ineligible to join a union.
IFPTE Secretary-Treasury Paul Shearon said Thursday that GAO leaders approached the union last week, questioning whether Band IIB analysts could be represented by a separate union. "That provided the option of discussing how we approach getting these employees to vote with the party of their peers," Shearon said.
The discussions allowed the two sides to reach a compromise Wednesday, allowing all permanent and probationary Band IIB employees to participate in the IFPTE election. As part of the agreement, the union agreed to withdraw an unfair labor practice charge filed against Walker late last month.
Headquarters employees will vote by manual ballot, and field office employees will vote by mail. Ballots will be counted immediately after the voting process ends, Shearon said.
After the election is complete, GAO management will have five days to allege a violation of the election rules. But if employees choose in favor of the union, certification is immediate. GAO's union would be an IFPTE local, and after certification, employees who join could begin electing officers and negotiating a contract, Shearon said.
The push to unionize is partly a response to a new personnel system at GAO, under which 308 senior analysts did not receive pay raises last year. IFPTE has said that most employees have cited what they consider to be a lack of transparency in pay for performance as a major driver of the organizing campaign.
Unlike most federal agencies, in which managers are not responsible for setting pay, bargaining over wages would be possible at GAO because of management's broad authority over compensation.
GAO's Personnel Appeals Board will oversee the election process and is expected to issue a formal election agreement in the coming days.
"IFPTE is grateful for the diligent efforts of all the people who had a hand in bringing this agreement about," said IFPTE President Greg Junemann, "and we look forward to continued mutual cooperation as we move forward to complete the election process."