Union and Alaska Army Posts Resolve Differences Over Official Time and Illegal Contract, But Other Fights Remain
Despite agreeing to drop the illegal contract the agency unilaterally imposed on AFGE employees in 2019, union officials say management continues to resist the Biden administration’s pro-labor policies.
Management at three U.S. Army installations in Alaska this month agreed to unwind the unilateral imposition of Trump-era caps on official time as well as an entirely new contract for a pair of union locals representing civilian workers at the forts.
But labor leaders bemoaned continued resistance to implementing President Biden’s executive orders rescinding Trump-era labor policies and mandating federal agencies establish a collaborative relationship with their unions.
In 2019, management at three Alaskan military installations—Fort Greely, Fort Wainwright and Fort Richardson—unilaterally implemented President Trump’s executive order setting caps on the amount of time union officials can spend on official time, despite the fact that Trump’s edict stipulated that agencies respect the terms of existing collective bargaining agreements. And last year, the installations unilaterally imposed a completely new union contract on the American Federation of Government Employees locals 1834 and 1712, which represent civilian employees at the three facilities.
The union filed a series of unfair labor practice complaints in connection with the two incidents. The settlement agreement, in which Army management agreed to all of the union’s terms and accepted fault for the labor law violations, was reached on the eve of the parties’ hearing before the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
Bill Ward, president of AFGE Local 1834, said that while he is pleased that the agency agreed to settle the dispute, there is a lot of work that must be done to reinstitute the old union contract.
“They have to revert back to the old contract, including [memoranda of agreement, memoranda of understanding, standard operating procedures] and everything,” he said. “It’s not just one employee, it’s all employees. Everyone had their alternate work schedules changed, and now they have to go back and make them whole. With overtime rosters, since they didn’t follow the old contract, we have to go back and see who was harmed by that, who didn’t get picked for overtime that should have, and they’ll have to make them whole. That’ll be the most time consuming thing: finding all of the employees who have been hurt, and the bad part is a lot of those employees don’t even know that they were hurt yet.”
Ward said that over the past four years, he racked up more than 1,000 hours of paid and unpaid leave in order to work on representational issues that should have been covered by official time but were denied. And that doesn’t include instances where he represented employees during off hours.
“We have over 3,000 hours of official time that were denied over that time,” he said. “I’m pushing 600 hours of annual leave that I had to take during that period to do union work, and I have over 800 hours of leave without pay that I took to do union work over that time, so the agency’s going to have to reimburse me for all of that.”
But despite the recent victory, Ward said he isn’t optimistic that the Army has sufficiently changed culturally to encourage more collaborative labor-management relations, despite the efforts of the Biden administration. He noted that the attorney responsible for the violations in the recent settlement, as well as multiple failed bids to decertify his union, recently transferred to the Midwest, where he unilaterally imposed a new contract on bargaining unit employees at Rock Island Arsenal last month.
And Ward is still fighting with management about restoring the union’s office space at Fort Wainwright.
“They came back and offered a closet space in the basement of a soldier’s barracks to say ‘That’s the status quo [remedy],’” Ward said. “Well, no. You may want to relook at the definition of status quo . . . Status quo is as if you never did it in the first place. Don’t give us a different office, give us our office back.”
Eve Baker, a Fort Wainwright spokeswoman, said management “fully supports” the union, but disputed Ward’s description of the proposed AFGE office space as a “closet.”
“After the union vacated the office on Fort Wainwright in 2019, office space was offered to the union in February 2021 and again in April 2023,” she said. “The offered space includes private offices, a private conference room, a large common gathering area and kitchen. The union refused this offer and continues to request they be permitted to return to their previous location. The challenge with that request is impeded by the future demands on office space on Fort Wainwright brought on by the transformation and design of the 11th Airborne Division and a priority focus on quality-of-life efforts.”
Ward said that ultimately, efforts by Democratic administrations to “change the culture” of labor-management relations need enforcement mechanisms to be effective.
“We’ve literally been told by management officials, ‘All we’ve got to do is wait until the next administration,’—that’s literally their mindset,” he said. “That lawyer, after he got done here and when the tea leaves started showing we’d eventually win at the FLRA, he got promoted and went on to Rock Island and did the exact same thing there. The chief negotiator for the Army here for the contract we fought tooth and nail against is going to the [Army] War College because she got promoted. They’re being promoted for holding the union down: ‘Hey, good job.’”
“It doesn’t matter how many executive orders any president puts out that says you should work with the unions, with the employees’ exclusive representative, if there’s not enforcement,” Ward said. “If you want cultural change, you have to enforce it. It’s that simple.”
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