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Is the Obama Administration Trying to Expand Federal Collective Bargaining?

An Obama-created board within the federal Office of Personnel Management's recently approved "an outline of a report due to President Obama in May on personnel issues for which collective bargaining is currently optional," reports Government Executive. The board in question is the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, which was created under a December 2009 Obama Executive Order that stipulates:

Management should discuss workplace challenges and problems with labor and endeavor to develop solutions jointly, rather than advise union representatives of predetermined solutions to problems and then engage in bargaining over the impact and implementation of the predetermined solutions.

In other words, managers shouldn't tell unionized employees what they need to do to fulfill their duties if the unionized employees don't feel like doing it.

This is about a transparent an effort to expand collective bargaining within the federal government. Yet the administration and its union allies seem to be trying to obscure its intent and effect, by trying to sell it as an exercise in improving management practices. At issue specifically are what are known as (b)(1) bargaining issues. As Government Executive explains:

So-called (b)(1) bargaining gets its name from a section of the U.S. Code that covers topics management currently may choose to bargain or not. These issues include numbers, types and grades of employees, and methods, means and technology used for doing an organization’s work, according to National Federation of Federal Employees President Bill Dougan.

During the Clinton administration, the statute required that labor organizations and federal agencies bargain for the issues contained in (b)(1), but that requirement was rescinded under former President George W. Bush. The council hopes the report, due to the White House on May 1, will make a definitive recommendation on how President Obama should handle the statute.

“One recommendation could be continuing the status quo and leave it as an option,” Dougan told Government Executive. “Another option could be to discontinue (b)(1) bargaining, another option could be to mandate (b)(1) bargaining.”

Considering the Council's composition, it is very hard to believe that it would seriously consider anything but the last option Dougan mentions. The Federal Labor-Management Relations Council was:

  1. Created by a pro-union administration;
  2. To address no specific need about which anybody but union leaders would care about;
  3. Is stacked with government union officials; and
  4. Approved the report unanimously.

In addition to Dougan, other union officials and on the Council include:

  • Teamsters Public Services Division Director Michael B. Filler;
  • American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage;
  • National Association of Government Employees President David Holway;
  • International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers President Gregory Junemann;
  • National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley; and
  • Federal Education Association (FEA) Executive Director/General Counsel H.T. Nguyen (the FEA is a National Education Association affiliate that represents teachers employed by the federal government).

The Obama administration might well respond that not every member of the Council is a union official. While that may be true, none of the above named individuals is likely to ever approve a report on collective bargaining that doesn't endorse expanding the practice. And the report was approved unanimously.

Expanded collective bargaining at any level of government would be bad news for taxpayers, as it is the mechanism government employee unions use to gain for themselves compensation and benefits -- and ironclad job security -- well beyond those prevalent in the private sector for similar work.

This is a bad enough problem at the state and local level. Bringing it up to the federal level would make it much worse, due to the size of the workforce and taxpayers' inability to "vote with their feet" by moving to lower-taxed jurisdictions, short of leaving the country.

Of course, the union bosses on the Council may well insist that they have nothing but the taxpayers' interest in mind. If you buy that story, I've got a bridge to sell you.

For more on public sector unions, see here and here.