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OPM, union struggle on partnership

OPM, union struggle on partnership

letters@govexec.com

As head of the National Partnership Council, Office of Personnel Management Director Janice Lachance urges federal agencies to involve unions in management decisions. But the union that represents OPM employees says Lachance's agency doesn't practice what she preaches.

American Federation of Government Employees Local 32, which represents OPM employees, says the agency's management does not involve union representatives enough in meetings before making major decisions about the agency's future. Furthermore, OPM managers don't negotiate over so-called "permissive" issues, such as the number and grades of employees, even though President Clinton's 1993 Executive Order 12871 ordered agencies to do so, the union says.

"It doesn't look politically good for OPM not to adhere to the advice that the National Partnership Council gives to other agencies," said Michelle Tolson, president of AFGE Local 32.

The union doesn't fault Lachance, who from 1987 to 1993 was director of communications for AFGE's national office. But OPM needs to expand the scope of bargaining and include union representatives in more meetings, the union says.

Mark Hunker, senior adviser to Lachance, said OPM supports bargaining over permissive issues and cited several examples of memorandums of understanding between the agency and the union that covered such issues. He said labor-management relations have been strained at times in recent years because of contentious contract negotiations. OPM and Local 32 could not agree on a final contract, so a third-party arbitrator is making final determinations on a number of issues before the contract is ratified later this spring.

OPM and the union have agreed to create an agency-wide labor-management partnership council headed by the agency director and the union local president. The council will include seven managers and seven union representatives. While partnership councils at the bureau level within OPM exist now, the original agency-wide partnership council was disbanded several years ago. The union blames management for the breakup, while OPM officials say the union chose to end the council.

The union also complains that lower-level partnership councils are management-heavy. For example, on one council, there are 15 managers, but only five union representatives and one non-bargaining unit employee. Workers don't think the issues that are important to them get addressed at the councils, the union said.

"Hopefully with the new contractual language for partnership initiatives and a commitment from agency heads, things will get better here at OPM," Tolson said.

Hunker said OPM is working hard to rebuild trust between the union and management. Relations have soured since OPM cut about half its workforce between 1993 and 1997.

The Clinton administration is considering issuing a memorandum to agency heads instructing them to comply with Executive Order 12871 on permissive bargaining issues. Unions have complained that managers throughout the government are ignoring the order, while many managers contend that permissive issues cover management-only responsibilities.