House members ask Obama to bring back labor-management partnerships

Three Democratic lawmakers have asked President Obama to restore a labor-management partnership council established by President Clinton and abolished by President Bush.

"Union leaders with whom we have spoken agree that the labor-management partnership recognized the importance of employees and their employee representatives to smooth collegial decision-making in the government," wrote Reps. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., in a June 2 letter to the president. "The council served the essential purpose of maintaining communication between the heads of executive agencies and the president to better serve the public."

Clinton created the governmentwide National Partnership Council in a 1993 executive order, and directed agencies to establish their own groups. But Bush shut down the partnerships with a 2001 executive order. In 2007, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, introduced legislation that would have written the councils into law; the bill did not make it out of committee in either chamber of Congress.

Reviving the labor-management partnerships has been a priority for federal unions, though there has been some disagreement about the form the partnerships should take. John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, has said he would prefer a version of partnership that did not require employee and management representatives to be trained in negotiation tactics that focus on reaching compromises and consensus. Other unions have praised the Clinton-era partnerships for fostering greater collaboration between labor and management, and a number have submitted drafts of a potential executive order.

"Partnership, collaboration, cooperation -- it does not matter what it is called," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "The idea is that a mechanism be established by which employees' voices can be heard in a nonadversarial forum where everyone retains their rights and where the objective is raising and talking through ideas that address ways to reach common goals."

Even absent an executive order, the Obama administration has shown some interest in restoring partnership. Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, voluntarily restarted EPA's partnership council. And Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said during his confirmation hearing that he wanted to increase labor-management collaboration within OPM to set a strong example for the rest of government.

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