Obama creates labor-management council

Obama's Dec. 9 order is similar to a Clinton mandate. Obama's Dec. 9 order is similar to a Clinton mandate. Kevin Lamaque/Landov

President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order, similar to a Clinton-era mandate, that establishes governmentwide labor-management partnerships.

In addition to requiring labor-management forums at the agency level, the order creates a national council on federal labor-management relations, led by the deputy director of management for the Office of Management and Budget and director of the Office of Personnel Management.

In keeping with an Oct. 1 draft, the Dec. 9 order does not include expanded bargaining power for federal labor unions, despite their efforts to obtain it. An earlier draft of the order, circulated in August, contained a section that would have made bargaining over (b)(1) or so-called permissive subjects mandatory for all federal agencies. Those subjects normally are not liable to negotiation in the federal sector, and include issues such as the number and qualifications of employees assigned to work on projects, the technology involved and work methods.

Rather, the order would require the council to create pilot programs that would test bargaining over permissive subjects in a small group of agencies. The council would evaluate the programs, which must be established within 150 days of the date of the order. The council will dissolve after two years unless the president extends it.

The Dec. 9 order also restores requirements, in effect during the Clinton administration, that agency leaders and union officials undergo training in cooperative bargaining and dispute resolution tactics. And it requires that agencies provide labor groups with "pre-decisional" information on workplace matters, including those not subject to collective bargaining.

"The National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations and the affiliated forums at federal agencies will provide venues for all sides to work toward a stronger, more effective federal government," said Jeffrey Zients, OMB deputy director for management.

Union officials praised language in the Dec. 9 order that enables labor to elevate complaints at the agency level to the attention of the national council. The Clinton-era order does not contain such a provision.

"This executive order has teeth in it," said Matt Biggs, political director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. "This actually forces them to approach these discussions in a good faith way."

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, grudgingly praised the order, but said it was up to the Obama administration to see it through.

"It's not what we wanted, and I think most of our locals are going to go into this thing a little disappointed, but they're going to go into it with good faith, and really try to make it work," Gage said.

Other members of the council include the head of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, as well as the presidents of the major federal employee unions, the Senior Executives Association, the Federal Managers Association, and other employee and management representatives.

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