Labor relations authority begins regulatory reform effort

As the Federal Labor Relations Authority moves forward with the first changes to arbitration regulations in 25 years, unions say the proposed reforms could make the process more fair and efficient.

In the initial phase of a more extensive process, FLRA on Thursday announced some proposed changes to how arbitrators award damages and how parties could appeal awards in those cases. FLRA Chairwoman Carol Waller Pope called the changes "another step in our efforts to better serve our customers and provide them with meaningful and clear guidance."

Pope said FLRA designed the changes after an internal working group met with arbitrators, labor relations experts and members of the federal employee community in Washington, Chicago and Oakland, Calif.

The reforms include changing the appeals period to begin the day after an arbitrator makes an award, rather than the same day; allowing labor and management to ask FLRA to expedite its decisions on conflicts other than unfair labor practices; and extending the filing period if parties have asked for help through the Collaboration and Alternative Dispute Resolution Program, which helps labor and management resolve their differences without turning it over to an arbitrator.

CADRP participated in only 16 cases in fiscal 2009, but managed to resolve or convince the parties to withdraw 15 complaints during that time. FLRA issued 215 decisions during that same period.

Teresa Idris, general counsel for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, praised FLRA for focusing not simply on streamlining the arbitration process, but also on arbitration education -- an area Pope said will be a priority. FLRA expanded its training programs in October, and is conducting training sessions in collaboration with the Merit Systems Protection Board in support of President Obama's executive order creating labor management partnerships.

"This two-pronged approach is in keeping with the FLRA's overall focus on becoming more user-friendly and effective," Idris said.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she would examine the new rules closely and submit formal comments, but the proposed regulations "appear to be positive steps towards reducing misuse and abuse of the process." She cautioned, however, that FLRA needs more than regulatory reform.

"What is really needed to improve the work of the FLRA is adequate funding, including funding for staffing," she said. "FLRA staffing has not kept pace with the demonstrated need, causing lengthy delays in decisions related to exceptions filed to an arbitrator's decision. Given the vital role of the FLRA in federal sector labor-management relations, that has to change for the better."

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