Susan Walsh / AP

Unions Call on Biden to Name New Labor Board Appointees

More than six months into his administration, President Biden has yet to nominate a second Democrat to the Federal Labor Relations Authority, while the Federal Service Impasses Panel sits vacant.

A coalition of more than 30 federal employee unions last week urged President Biden to name new appointees to two key federal labor boards, following a recent decision narrowing unions’ ability to challenge alleged bad-faith bargaining that occurs during contract negotiations.

The Federal Workers Alliance is composed of more than 30 smaller labor unions, including the National Federation of Federal Employees and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, and collectively represents more than 300,000 federal workers. In their letter, the unions called on Biden to nominate a second Democrat to serve on the Federal Labor Relations Authority and to appoint new people to the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which has been dormant since the president fired all 10 of its members in February.

At the FLRA, although Biden has designated Democrat Ernest DuBester the agency’s chairman—and renominated him for a new term—he has not nominated a second Democrat to serve on the three-member board and replace Member James Abbott, who is serving in holdover status. Former Chairwoman Colleen Duffy Kiko’s term does not expire until 2022, and the law establishing the agency requires that one member come from the minority political party. Earlier this month, Abbott and Kiko issued a controversial decision narrowing unions’ ability to litigate allegations of bad faith bargaining that occurs during contract negotiations

“While Kiko and Abbott remain on the FLRA, the authority continues to act in a manner that undermines the law promoting collective bargaining,” the unions wrote. “Their judgment on FLRA cases continues to produce decisions that are inherently biased against labor and the collective bargaining process. Their decisions are clearly aimed at diminishing the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute meant to protect the proper balance of workplace labor rights.”

The unions also cited the poor track record of FLRA decisions in recent years, as the D.C. Circuit Court has overruled the authority four times since 2019. They also called out a series of generalized policy statements aimed at narrowing the scope of federal sector collective bargaining, overturning decades of precedent despite the lack of a concrete dispute.

“If the goal is to protect collective bargaining rights to federal employees, and to promote the collective bargaining process, the lack of respect that Kiko and Abbott have shown for precedent and the rule of law makes them wholly unqualified to serve on the FLRA,” they wrote. “The manufactured legal reasoning cited in decisions by Kiko and Abbott have resulted in thousands of employees being stripped of legitimate workplace rights and union protections. These decisions have severely restricted employees’ free exercise of rights . . . even on the most fundamental of things—such as bargaining over working conditions.”

And while the unions thanked Biden for moving swiftly in February to oust the membership of the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which was notorious during the Trump administration for imposing union contract terms more draconian than those even suggested by agency management, they said it is time to appoint new members to deal with a growing backlog of pending cases.

“Given that the appointments to FSIP do not require Senate confirmation, it is our hope that the administration can move quickly to staff those positions with qualified, experienced personnel to begin again its important work to resolve impasses during collective bargaining,” they wrote. “A growing FSIP backlog halts progress on critical workplace issues and leaves both employees and agencies in limbo as they await adjudication, potentially for years on end. This delay will likely negatively impact the ability of unions to eradicate the harmful effects of the executive orders issued by the Trump administration.”