Union argues employee cannot pursue the case after being promoted to management.

Union argues employee cannot pursue the case after being promoted to management. David Talukdar / Getty Images

A Union Says the National Park Service Violated the Law by Allowing an HR Official to Pursue Decertification After Her Promotion

Federal labor law requires agencies to remain neutral on the question of whether employees want to be represented by a labor union.

The American Federation of Government Employees has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the National Park Service due to its apparent failure to prevent a former Blue Ridge Parkway employee from continuing to pursue the decertification of a recently consolidated union at the facility.

The allegations stem from an employee who was part of a newly consolidated bargaining unit at the agency’s Blue Ridge Parkway facility in North Carolina and filed a petition with the Federal Labor Relations Authority to decertify the union, which is organized as part of AFGE. The FLRA found an absence of precedent with regard to whether its rule barring decertification petitions within one year of a union election applies in cases where multiple bargaining units are consolidated under the umbrella of one union.

With the backing of the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, a conservative group devoted to combatting organized labor, the employee, Erin Lamm, has continued to pursue the case, filing a legal brief in the case as recently as last month.

But there’s one problem: around July 1, Lamm was promoted out of the bargaining unit and into the National Park Service’s HR office for Region 2, which includes the Blue Ridge Parkway facility. And while she pursued the case, agency managers have dragged their feet on negotiations to establish a new comprehensive union contract for the consolidated bargaining unit, including failing to respond to a federal mediator requested to aid talks.

Union officials told Government Executive that last month, a new labor relations officer was assigned to the regional office and has since begun meeting with the union. The National Park Service did not respond to a request for comment.

In AFGE’s complaint filed Oct. 3, the union argued that by allowing Lamm to continue to file legal briefs in the FLRA case more than two months after her promotion into a management position, the agency has broken federal labor law, which imparts agencies with a “duty of neutrality in representation elections.” In essence, the knowledge among bargaining unit members that a member of management is opposed to the union’s existence can unduly influence their choice of whether or not to support remaining unionized.

“There’s an absolute duty of neutrality in the federal sector; that’s the law,” said Cathie McQuiston, AFGE’s deputy general counsel. “The harm is—it’s easier for me to analogize it to what you’ve seen lately about Starbucks and Amazon, where they have captive audience meetings and other tactics to pressure people to vote against the union. Those aren’t allowed in the federal sector, and Congress had that in mind when at the beginning of the statute, it says that the government is supposed to be a model employer in these matters.”

Although the FLRA may preserve this case’s active status for the purposes of establishing precedent on the question of whether a decertification petition like Lamm’s can go forward in any instance, her petition cannot proceed due to her new status as a management official. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has already backed a new decertification petition led by another employee at the Blue Ridge Parkway facility, but McQuiston argued that that, too, should be squashed.

“They’ve already muddied the water and poisoned the water here,” she said. “Because this is the first contract [for the newly consolidated bargaining unit], there is some precedent that you have to have ‘pristine’ conditions, and they call them ‘laboratory’ conditions in other contexts. Over at the National Labor Relations Board, if someone files a decertification within the first year after certification, it’s automatically dismissed because it muddies the waters and harms those conditions. This saga has destroyed those conditions, and we have to be allowed to recapture them as a remedy so that we can bargain a fair contract for the people we represent.”