State and local government unions may bargain over a wider breadth of subjects than their federal counterparts, but the Obama administration did its part to expand the bargaining power of federal employee unions.
Signed in 2009, former president Obama issued Executive Order 13522, which created the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations. This greatly expanded federal employee unions’ authority over the day-to-day operations of government agencies related to workplace matters. The Council set up labor forums where union representatives would meet with agency officials to improve agency decision making and public services.
The creation of the Council primarily changed federal labor relations by granting federal employee unions pre-decisional involvement in agency discussions on workplace matters and management initiatives. In other words, unions were given greater authority to impact how the federal government is run. The E.O. encourages federal agencies to involve employees and unions in “all workplace matters to the fullest extent practicable without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects under federal labor law.”
This system was purported to improve the delivery of public by giving federal employee unions greater say in how the government functions.
The current administration believes the Council has failed to achieve its stated goals. On September 29, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order that disbanded the Council. The E.O. reads:
The United States Government should spend tax dollars responsibly, efficiently, and in the public interest. The National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations (Council) and related agency-level labor-management forums have consumed considerable managerial time and taxpayer resources, but they have not fulfilled their goal of promoting collaboration in the Federal workforce. Public expenditures on the Council and related forums have produced few benefits to the public, and they should, therefore, be discontinued.
The revocation of the Council is step toward improving public services, despite the disappointment among federal employee union bosses.
The creation of the Council conflicted with the clear text of The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, the law governing federal labor-management relations. Of note, the section of the law covering management rights states that “nothing in this chapter shall affect the authority of any management official of any agency” to decide its mission, budget, staffing levels, ability to assign work and more. Despite these restrictions on what authority agency heads may cede to labor unions, the Obama E.O. ordered federal agencies to “collaborate” with labor unions on these subjects.
A post on the Obama E.O. at FedSmith.com showed how establishing the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations created inherent conflicts of interest between political appointees who run federal agencies and labor unions:
The first area highlighted (the creation of Forums) has had the undisputed effect of directly involving political appointees in dealings with the unions more than ever before. These appointees’ party of affiliation is intimately tied to unions by union contributions and fund raising and the work of union members and union employees directly in campaigns for electing Democrats, including the president.
It is likely that a number of these appointees either worked side by side with the same union representatives in the campaign or solicited their effort to influence voters. Anyone who has read anything about the history of labor relations knows that there are many areas in which union and management interests are different. Also, the unions have lobbied publicly and vocally to exclude from the forums anyone in the Agency who has negotiated previously on the Agency’s behalf.
The Trump administration’s assessment that the Council is a waste of public funds is accurate. The creation of the Council and labor-management forums increased the wasteful practice of union official time, where federal employees perform union business on the taxpayer dime. So, instead of actually delivery public services, federal employees spent time negotiating for more benefits for their members and themselves. In FY 2014, official time cost $162.5 million with federal employees spending over 3 million hours on union business.
Even Progressive icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt would agree with President Trump on his action. FDR wrote, “The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations.”
Disbanding the Council is a good step forward. And public policy should not bind agency officials with the demands of government unions more than they already are.