Unions Push Back on Trump Administration's Plans to Shrink Labor-Management Agency

Facility closures come amid proposed cuts to NLRB, end to internal labor forums.

The federal agency tasked with overseeing labor-management relations in government is planning to shutter two of its seven regional offices, and federal employee unions are not happy about it.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority announced the closures of its Boston and Dallas offices in its fiscal 2019 budget justification, saying the reductions would save money and eliminate less-used facilities. The Boston and Dallas offices have seen the lowest case intake rates over the last five years, FLRA said, and would result in “operating efficiencies” enabled by technological advances. The agency moved forward with the closures after a majority of FLRA members voted to approve them.

Sixteen employees would be affected by the closures, all of whom will be offered reassignments in other regions or at the Washington, D.C., headquarters. FLRA has also received authority to offer the employees early retirement, and plans to cut its workforce by 8 percent overall.

“FLRA leadership is confident that it can continue to meet mission and operational needs at this staffing level,” the agency said.

Twenty labor groups sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to block the reductions, saying they would hinder the agency’s efforts to approve new collective bargaining units, resolve unfair labor practice disputes and reconcile negotiations between unions and management. The closures, the unions said, will exacerbate funding cuts to the agency’s “core mission” work. Moving FLRA staff farther from the unions who depend on them will inhibit those employees’ ability to “build relationships with parties,” the groups argued. 

Additionally, the unions said, the recent two-year budget agreement boosting non-defense discretionary spending by $131 billion negates any spending constraints necessitating the cuts. FLRA cited the highest-per-square-foot rent of the Boston office to justify its closure.

“For operational, mission and budget reasons, it is clear that the FLRA’s plan to close two regional offices should not go forward,” the unions wrote. “It would undermine the agency’s ability to carry out its mission, and was devised under budgetary and policy assumptions that are no longer current or accurate.”

The labor groups called on the Government Accountability Office to report on the impact of proposed closures before they move forward. FLRA last shuttered offices in the 1990s, when it eliminated its facilities in New York City and Los Angeles.

The Trump administration is also proposing significant cuts at FLRA’s private sector counterpart, the National Labor Relations Board. The board is aiming to centralize functions typically performed by regional staffers and dramatically slash its budget and workforce, a plan that has faced significant pushback among its own employees. By executive order last year, President Trump disbanded labor-management forums at federal agencies.

The council and the forums, Trump’s order stated, “have consumed considerable managerial time and taxpayer resources, but they have not fulfilled their goal of promoting collaboration in the federal workforce. Public expenditures on the council and related forums have produced few benefits to the public, and they should, therefore, be discontinued.”