Federal employee union members take part in a rally outside the Capitol in September 2019.

Federal employee union members take part in a rally outside the Capitol in September 2019. Chelsea Bland / AFGE

Major Federal Employee Union Urges Biden to Restore Collaborative Labor Relations

NTEU publishes recommendations for the presidential transition, encouraging an end to President Trump’s antagonism of unions.

The leader of the National Treasury Employees Union said Monday that President-elect Biden should move swiftly to pursue a collaborative relationship with federal employee unions as he seeks to “repair the damage” caused by the Trump administration across the government.

NTEU has published a series of recommendations for Biden’s transition team entitled “United for America,” which argues that the one of the most important things that the new administration can do to achieve its goals is to re-empower the federal workforce and roll back the Trump administration’s efforts to hamper collective bargaining and other employee rights.

“When it comes to federal employee rights, we don’t think this administration was able to do anything that can’t be undone,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said on a call with reporters. “It’s going to take some work beyond just rescinding executive orders, but the damage is not permanent. Our message to the Biden administration is that NTEU is committed to helping the new administration by doing what is best for employees, for agencies and for taxpayers.”

The union called for Biden to immediately rescind the 2018 executive orders aimed at making it easier to fire federal workers and weakening federal employee unions, as well as more recent orders that would convert wide segments of the federal workforce into a new job classification lacking any civil service protections and barring agencies and federal contractors from conducting a wide array of diversity and inclusion training programs.

It also urged the next president to rescind a number of regulations and presidential delegations of authority, particularly ones granting the Federal Labor Relations Authority the ability to remove members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel and granting the secretary of Defense the authority to block collective bargaining at the Pentagon on national security grounds. And it called for Biden to reinstate labor-management partnerships across the federal government.

“We believe this is extremely important,” Reardon said. “It’s amazing how many labor-management problems you can get solved just by meeting regularly and working collaboratively and in good faith.”

On the appointment front, NTEU said Biden should replace all members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel with “qualified neutrals,” as well as re-nominate FLRA member Ernest DuBester to chair the agency. Under the union’s proposal, Republican member James Abbott, whose term expired in July, should also be replaced. Reardon and NTEU National Vice President Jim Bailey said the president-elect should also quickly make nominations to long-vacant seats at the Merit Systems Protection Board and for the FLRA general counsel position.

“It would mean a lot for the thousands of cases in the backlog before the MSPB waiting for a decision; those cases need to be decided,” Bailey said. “Also, the board basically defines and elaborates on standards that even arbitrators follow in adverse action cases, so to the extent there are outstanding questions there, that would be helpful. Having an FLRA general counsel back would mean that the FLRA regional offices can actually investigate unfair labor practices, issue complaints and prosecute them.”

Reardon and Bailey acknowledged that many of the Trump administration’s potentially long-lasting changes to the landscape of labor-management relations came in the form of decisions by the FLRA that reduced the scope of bargaining required of agencies. Some of those decisions were general policy statements, while others came in the context of concrete disputes.

“We’ve been keeping track of those decisions . . . and a number came in the form of policy decisions that we have already appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court,” Bailey said. “But we have been keeping track of decisions issued based on a set of facts before the FLRA, and yes, when the makeup of the board changes, we already have cases identified and in the pipeline moving forward to present an opportunity for a different FLRA majority to overturn those.”