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Labor leaders complain of being cut out of agency decisions

Oct. 6, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments

Union leaders said this morning that they are being frozen out of decisions that are intended to be made in labor-management partnership forums, and that their members are starting to sour on the process.

The leaders of the two largest federal unions said at today's meeting of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations that they are growing frustrated that some agencies, such as the Defense Department, are only consulting them after key workplace decisions have been all but made. Unions want to be consulted on changes as soon as possible.

In some places, they said, labor and management have different ideas of what President Obama meant when he said employees and unions should have "predecisional involvement" in workplace matters and when employees should be brought into the decision-making process.

"There's the concern that things are happening right now with DoD's budget," American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage said. "That's a big deal. Many of our people are very nervous, and nothing is happening on discussions with the unions. A lot of our people are getting soured on the process because it's not happening."

Gage said some agencies are approaching predecisional involvement as if it were a pilot program and only applies to one particular topic.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said that's not what Obama instructed, and said the executive order mandating the partnerships said predecisional involvement should be used for all topics. Berry promised to draft guidance that will tell agencies they need to involve labor more.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said her members are frustrated by the hang-ups over language.

"It's pretty obvious what it means," Kelley said. "I think [the dispute] has impeded our progress."

Gage said one problem is that managers often wait until official partnership forum meetings to talk about impending decisions. But some labor-management forums have so far met infrequently in some cases, every three or four months which means unions don't find out about decisions until they're well underway.

Berry said that OPM's forums have met every two weeks to discuss upcoming matters, such as budget-cutting measures.

"We discuss anything we see coming down the pike, so people aren't surprised," Berry said. "Ours has been working very well."

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