Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., led colleagues in writing the letter.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., led colleagues in writing the letter. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

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Senate Democrats Push for Union Protections in Spending Package

Language in a House-passed appropriations bill blocking implementation of union contracts imposed by a federal impasses panel remains subject to negotiation.

The entire Senate Democratic caucus on Wednesday urged the chamber’s leadership to adopt a House-passed provision of an appropriations bill that would protect federal employee unions from contracts to which they have not affirmatively agreed, as lawmakers continue negotiations over fiscal 2020 spending bills.

In June, the House passed its version of the fiscal 2020 Federal Services and General Government appropriations package. That bill contains a provision blocking agencies from using federal funds to implement any collective bargaining agreement that has not been “mutually and voluntarily agreed to by all parties” or was not the result of binding arbitration, retroactive to April 30, 2019.

In effect, the language would prevent agencies from unilaterally implementing new union contracts outside of the collective bargaining process, as the Environmental Protection Agency has done in recent months. And it would prevent the implementation of contracts as mandated by the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which makes decisions on contested contract proposals if labor and management cannot reach agreement through traditional negotiations.

With few exceptions, the impasses panel in recent months has been viewed as something of a rubber stamp for the Trump administration’s strident pro-management contract proposals. The body is now the focus of a lawsuit, which argues that the panel’s composition violates the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution and that members should be subject to Senate confirmation.

In a letter Wednesday, Democrats asked Senate leadership and the heads of the body’s Appropriations Committee to “accede” to the House’s version of the Financial Services bill, specifically the provision on collective bargaining agreements.

“Many agencies have resorted to circumventing the collective bargaining process altogether by engaging in ‘surface’ bargaining—going through the bargaining process without meaningfully participating in negotiations—to reach the Federal Service Impasses Panel, where the Trump-appointed panel has disproportionately ruled in favor of management,” the senators wrote. “Other agencies have refused to negotiate outright.”

The lawmakers argued that the various pro-management provisions in these contested contracts not only would hurt the labor organizations, but the employees they represent. This could jeopardize efforts to recruit and retain top employees, the senators said.

“With almost a third of federal workers eligible to retire in the next five years, it is more important than ever that the federal government focus on recruiting and retaining the best employees,” they wrote. “Robust labor unions are the hallmark of competitive workplaces—they lead the fight for better benefits, protections and working conditions. The Trump administration’s anti-union agenda undermines the government’s ability to attract talented workers and demoralizes workers currently in public service.”

The Senate on Thursday approved a month-long stopgap spending bill, delaying a potential shutdown so that lawmakers can negotiate until late December. Among the issues still outstanding are collective bargaining protections, how much of a pay raise to provide civilian federal workers, and other policy matters.