Union rallies against pending trademark layoffs

Union officials want the Federal Labor Relations Authority to ask a judge for a temporary restraining order to prevent a planned layoff of up to 135 trademark examining attorneys later this month.

In May, Trademarks Commissioner Anne Chasser announced that the agency had to lay off some of its attorneys because trademark applications had decreased last year and the agency expects the trend to continue. The agency employs 383 trademark examining attorneys.

In the months following that announcement, National Treasury Employees Union officials have questioned the layoffs and repeatedly asked agency officials to engage in negotiations. The union has filed an unfair labor practice grievance and has petitioned FLRA to ask a federal district judge for a temporary restraining order to delay the reduction-in-force while a decision is still pending.

"We ask that they do the right thing and negotiate with NTEU, what they are required to do by law," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said.

On Friday afternoon, Kelley led more than 100 chanting employees in union T-shirts outside the Patent and Trademark Office's Arlington, Va., headquarters in an effort to draw attention to the issue.

"They were sending a very clear message to the people in the building behind us-that this fight is not over," Kelley said after the rally. "They were very spirited and their message was very loud, so there is not a doubt in my mind that they were heard."

While PTO spokeswoman Brigid Quinn declined to discuss the pending litigation, she said that nothing had changed in regard to the situation that led to the decision to lay off employees.

"We tried many other routes prior to the [reduction-in-force] to avoid it, but unfortunately, the workload has not increased and the [reduction-in-force] remains necessary," Quinn said.

Last year, trademark application filings dropped 21 percent to 296,000, according to PTO officials. Applications are expected to fall again this year to 250,000.

But Kelley said cutting the staff by one-third would reduce the agency's ability to serve its customers. "I'm concerned not just about the jobs and the families and the future of these employees, but we're all worried about the future of the trademark office," Kelley said. "I don't believe that they are going to be efficient and able to serve the American public."