Federal Agencies to Inform New Hires of Union Eligibility, Rights
As part of the Biden administration’s initiative to promote collective bargaining in the federal government, agencies also will be expected to inform current employees of their union rights at least twice per year.
The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is instituting a new policy pushing agencies to inform federal employees and new hires of their union rights on a regular basis.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja unveiled the initiative ahead of a roundtable discussion with federal workers at the White House. They described the measure as among the first steps in implementing an executive order signed by President Biden in April instructing the federal government to encourage collective bargaining both at agencies and in the private sector.
“Our administration has been working to help folks in the federal government organize and collectively bargain for two main reasons,” Harris said. “First, we believe that creating a stronger workforce is the work that will happen to create higher productivity and lower turnover, and we also believe this is about respecting the dignity of all work and the dignity of workers. Second, we believe and know workers are entitled to be paid wages commensurate with their value, and the dignity and value of work must be recognized.”
In a pair of memos to agency heads, Ahuja wrote that agencies are “strongly encouraged” to include in job announcements information about union eligibility and which labor group would represent the position. Agencies were also urged to ensure unions have a seat at the table during new employee orientation and inform new employees of their rights under federal labor law. Some agencies already advertise whether a job opening is covered by union representation and include union representatives in the onboarding process, but the practice is not uniform across the government.
The second memo also strongly encourages agencies to inform current federal employees of their union rights, as well as provide contact information for their union representative, on a biennial or quarterly basis.
“As we know, the right to organize is sacrosanct,” Ahuja said at the White House. “It empowers workers with their collective voice and ensures they are treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. It gives them a seat at the table to demand fair pay and benefits for their work and safe working conditions . . . It’s a pathway to fair wages, a pathway to the middle class, and it’s important work we should be doing in the federal government to really position ourselves as a model employer.”
OPM’s guidance provides templates that agencies can use as a model for their training and informational materials on labor rights, as well as an FAQ on the new policy. Although employers are expected to be “neutral” on the question of whether workers organize, federal labor law states that informing employees of their labor rights under the law is permitted.
“Agencies and their managers and supervisors should remain neutral, but this does not mean agencies are prohibited from providing certain information to employees or removing certain obstacles that might inhibit a union’s ability to exercise its rights under the law,” the guidance states. “[With] the issuance of this guidance, OPM is simply encouraging agencies to inform employees of the government’s policy relating to labor-management relations and representation and informing employees of their rights under the law.”
In a statement Wednesday, American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley lauded the announcement of the new policy.
“For too long, there has been a concerted effort by corporations and wealthy individuals to prevent working people from organizing and bargaining collectively to better their working conditions and standard of living,” Kelley said. “Indeed, in the past decades we saw this fight play out inside our own federal government—with an attempt to undermine employees’ independent unions and corrupt the apolitical civil service. As workers across the country find their voices, exercise their power and win transformational victories in a historic month of labor activism, we applaud the steps that the Biden administration is taking today to roll back attacks on labor unions, help federal employees understand their union rights, and support them in exercising those rights.”