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Unions hope for improved labor relations

Jan. 10, 2013 - 01:32PM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Colleen Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said progress on expanding partnership forums and improving labor-management cooperation at the agency level has slowed.
Colleen Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said progress on expanding partnership forums and improving labor-management cooperation at the agency level has slowed. (J.Lee / Staff)

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Federal unions hope that labor-management partnerships will pick up steam in 2013 after losing momentum last year.

One of the biggest experiments launched by the National Council on Federal Labor Management Relations was an effort to expand so-called B1 bargaining — collective bargaining on subjects usually left for managers to decide. But the experiment ended last year with few signs of success, and several top labor officials called the results disappointing.

The failure of the B1 bargaining pilot added to unions’ longstanding dissatisfaction with a lack of “pre-decisional involvement,” where agencies engage unions on workplace matters before they are decided.

Colleen Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said progress on expanding partnership forums and improving labor-management cooperation at the agency level has slowed. But she said NTEU will push agencies to improve partnerships in 2013.

“Properly constructed forums can be implemented and used to provide an excellent avenue for improving agency performance and the delivery of services to the public, as well as addressing key issues affecting employee job satisfaction,” Kelley said.

Some labor officials feared that if Mitt Romney won the White House, the partnership effort would be doomed. It had happened before: President George W. Bush killed the partnerships started by President Clinton immediately after taking office.

But J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said President Obama’s re-election ensures at least four more years of the government experimenting with ways to improve cooperation between employees and their managers.

Unions and management shouldn’t waste the opportunity, he said.

“We’re going to have labor-management forums for at least four years,” Cox said. “It’s here; the groundwork’s been laid. I’ll look for a very aggressive agenda.”

Cox said he wants to see the national council spend 2013 encouraging managers to embrace collective bargaining for their employees and trying to improve the relationships between managers and labor. The council and agencies need to take a stronger stand in support of pre-decisional involvement, he said.

That may include teaching some managers new habits and overcoming their possible reluctance to work with labor officials, Cox said.

“They’re drawing lines in the sand, and just sitting there forever and a day,” Cox said. “That’s ridiculous. We’re not asking management to give up anything. We just want them to come to the table.”

Agencies that do a good job with pre-decisional involvement should be recognized, Cox said, and those that do not should be called out.

Cox wants managers across the government to talk to labor about ways to improve employees’ training, career advancement opportunities and flexible work schedules, and codify resulting policies in contracts.

Building these policies from the ground up — at the local level — will be easier than expecting top government officials in Washington to set those policies and hope they trickle down, Cox said. But so far, he said, managers at the local level are making little effort to work with their union counterparts.

Cox also said AFGE will spend much of 2013 bargaining on new contracts for employees at the Bureau of Prisons, Environmental Protection Agency, Social Security Administration, Border Patrol, Veterans Affairs Department and others.

And Cox expects that AFGE’s paid membership will for the first time top 300,000 in 2013. He said AFGE had 282,000 members in December, and membership is swelling at the newly organized Transportation Security Administration and other agencies throughout the government.

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