Ernest DuBester said the office will ensure that agencies and their employees have a more productive relationship.

Ernest DuBester said the office will ensure that agencies and their employees have a more productive relationship. Getty Images

Federal Labor Authority Restores Dispute Resolution Office

Officials at FLRA, which governs labor-management relations in the federal government, said the decision will save agencies money by helping them avoid litigation.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority on Wednesday announced that it is re-establishing an office that historically has been used to help settle disputes between unions and federal agencies before they result in costly litigation, a further sign of the Biden administration’s more collaborative approach to labor groups.

The Collaboration and Alternative Dispute Resolution Office will work with unions and agencies to voluntarily resolve potential FLRA cases and will train labor and management officials on best practices to prevent conflicts from arising in the first place. The office previous existed from the 1990s until it was shuttered in 2018.

In a statement, FLRA Chairman Ernest DuBester said the office will ensure that agencies and their employees have a more productive relationship that is beneficial to all stakeholders. DuBester previously told Government Executive of his plans to place renewed focus on alternative dispute resolution.

“Teaching active listening techniques and problem-solving strategies often gives people a direct voice in workplace matters they otherwise would never experience,” DuBester said in a statement. “The real value of CADRO is that it drives more effective party engagement concerning matters covered by the statute, along with more effective and pragmatic labor-management problem-solving, rather than narrow resolution of legal disputes.”

Due to the lack of a general counsel at the agency for the entirety of the Trump administration, the FLRA currently has a backlog of around 450 unfair labor practice cases that regional directors have determined “have merit.” DuBester told Government Executive that he hopes the reestablishment of the alternative dispute resolution office will cut down on the number of cases that make it to administrative law judges and, eventually, the FLRA board, by encouraging parties to reach settlements.

Heading the office will be Michael Wolf, who previously served as the office’s director from 2013 until its closure in 2018. According to a fiscal 2018 performance report from the agency, in the final year of the office’s operation, 100% of negotiability disputes handled by the office resulted in “full or partial resolution” and closure of a pending case. Also rejoining the agency is Merritt Weinstein, who will serve as the senior dispute resolution specialist.

The reestablishment of the alternative dispute resolution office marks another indication that the Biden administration intends to pursue a more collaborative approach to labor issues. On his third day in office, the president signed an executive order rescinding a series of Trump-era decrees aimed at reducing the role of unions in the federal workplace, and Biden’s order also instructed agencies to engage in collective bargaining negotiations on “permissible, non-mandatory” subjects.

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