Evan Vucci / AP

Biden Demands Resignations from Impasses Panel

The Federal Service Impasses Panel was a key piece of the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on federal employee unions, frequently imposing contracts with draconian pro-management policies.

President Biden on Tuesday demanded that all 10 members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel resign, multiple sources confirmed to Government Executive.

Former President Trump had stacked the panel, which resolves disputes between agencies and labor groups that arise during collective bargaining negotiations, with anti-labor partisans, most of whom lacked experience in labor-management relations or conflict resolution.

The impasses panel in many cases was a key venue by which agencies sought to implement a trio of controversial executive orders aimed at making it easier to fire federal workers, speeding up the collective bargaining process and significantly reducing the scope of bargaining, and severely restricting union officials’ access to official time. The panel routinely imposed contracts that were seen as pro-management, stripping language from collective bargaining agreements on telework, employee rights, and on the issue of official time, often imposing draconian terms that were to the right of what management requested.

Federal employee groups had urged the Biden administration to act quickly to replace all of the panel’s 10 members. Although they typically serve set terms, the members do not currently require Senate confirmation.

In an interview with Government Executive on Monday, new Federal Labor Relations Authority Chairman Ernest DuBester expressed regret with how the panel has conducted itself over the last four years, and said he was hopeful that a Biden-appointed set of panel members would engage in mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes fairly, rather than governing by fiat.

“It’s not personal in the abstract, but given the nature of their responsibilities, the panel should be filled with people with labor-management experience or dispute resolution experience, and preferably both,” DuBester said. “In the first eight years that I served [on the FLRA], I’d say virtually all members fit that bill . . . I’m hoping the president will be designating new panel members at some point, and I’m just hoping all of them will have the experience along the lines of what I said.”

The FLRA and the impasses panel share some career staff, although the exact relationship between the two bodies is up for debate. Although the FLRA and the impasses panel have traditionally been considered distinct independent boards, President Trump delegated his authority to fire panel members to the FLRA in an effort to bolster his legal argument that they do not need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Multiple unions have been engaged in battles in federal court over the last year, arguing that, given the inability of labor groups to directly appeal panel decisions and panel members’ lack of a direct supervisor, they must be subject to the Senate confirmation process in accordance with the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. The judges tasked with resolving this question have yet to issue their decisions on the matter.

International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Secretary-Treasurer Matt Biggs lauded Biden’s decision to replace the panel’s members in a statement Tuesday.

“The FSIP members unilaterally installed by President Trump can best be described as a ‘who’s who’ of union busters and anti-government ideologues,” Biggs said. “They spent the better part of the last four years unilaterally imposing draconian contracts on federal unions and their members. These are contracts that were not the result of good faith bargaining and compromise. Rather, they were intended to pull the rug out from under the union from any realistic ability to represent their members.”

National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon described the news as "an extremely positive development" for federal labor-management relations, saying the panel's members should be qualified, experienced, fair and neutral. "The Trump-appointed panel was none of those things, and its record of nearly always siding with agency management, notwithstanding the record before it, proved its bias," he said. "We believe an FSIP made up of individuals with a background in labor-management relations who are not hostile toward unions or workers will help put federal employee unions and agency leadership back on equal footing, where disagreements can be resolved fairly and in a way that serves the interests of employees, agencies and taxpayers."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.