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Tight budgets to test labor-management partnerships

Dec. 19, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
With most agencies facing budget cuts in 2012, agencies could use the labor-management partnership forums to find ways to operate more effectively, said Bill Dougan of the National Federation of Federal Employees.
With most agencies facing budget cuts in 2012, agencies could use the labor-management partnership forums to find ways to operate more effectively, said Bill Dougan of the National Federation of Federal Employees. (Federal Times)

The first wide-scale test of labor-management partnerships' effectiveness could come in the new year as agency managers and labor leaders learn to operate in an austere budget environment.

With most agencies facing budget cuts in 2012, agencies could use the partnership forums to find ways to operate more effectively, said Bill Dougan, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. Dougan said labor leaders can help managers figure out more effective ways to get work done or new technologies that could make their jobs easier.

"Given the reality of the budget situation we're in, the handwriting's on the wall," Dougan said. "I think we've built a pretty solid foundation with these partnerships over the last few years. Now that we've developed solid relationships, we're at the point now where we can sit down, roll up our sleeves and work with management in a collaborative, cooperative manner to make the changes that need to be made."

Dougan expects many discussions about how to make offices run more efficiently to take place at local partnerships scattered across the country.

"Obviously, these forums are not a panacea, but they're an important tool to engage each other in meaningful dialogue," Dougan said. "That means discussions about changes that are inevitable, that are going to happen across the government."

President Obama this month renewed the executive order reestablishing partnership councils, which thrived under President Clinton but were quickly killed when President George W. Bush took office.

And next November's election could once again spell doom for the partnership effort.

Some Republican lawmakers and conservative pundits have criticized the partnerships as an unwarranted expansion of unions' reach into federal operations. And supporters and opponents alike agree that if Republicans were to retake the White House in November, the days of labor-management partnerships could be numbered.

Dougan said that in 2012, unions will attempt to take a more active role in steering the national partnership council's direction. In the council's first two years, he said, managers have primarily driven its agenda to such issues as performance management. He and other labor leaders want that to change, though he said in December that unions had not yet discussed what might be on their agenda.

"We're committed to getting together before the next meeting Jan. 18 and putting together our list of issues we'd like to work on," Dougan said.

A dozen federal facilities will also finish pilot testing a relatively controversial concept in early 2012: bargaining over so-called permissive subjects, such as the numbers, types and grades of employees assigned to particular jobs, and the technology they can use. Such workplace decisions are typically made exclusively by managers.

But it's unclear whether the pilot facilities will have enough results to show in time to submit a report to President Obama on May 1. Tim Curry, OPM's deputy associate director for partnership and labor relations, said in November that most of those 12 facilities hadn't yet shown significant progress on permissive subject bargaining, and they have until March 31 to submit their final results. That will leave the national council only one month to draft, review and finalize a report, which Curry warned will present a challenge.

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