The federal agency responsible for investigating and mediating federal labor relations problems could soon see three critical positions filled, in time to address workload and workforce challenges faced by the agency.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority has lost both critical leadership and essential career employees in recent years, resulting in backlogs of approximately 275 unfair labor practice cases and a reduction in career attorneys.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority is led by a board of three members, as well as a general counsel and impasse panel of 10 members.

Currently the FLRA has only two of its three members and has not had a permanent general counsel since January 2017. The agency even went without an acting general counsel until March of this year.

President Joe Biden appointed for the impasse panel 10 members, who do not need Senate confirmation; nominated one new authority member; renominated an existing board member for another term; and nominated a general counsel.

But in the time since 2017, the FLRA has lost 11 percent of its employees, predominantly among the general attorneys, who prosecute cases of unfair labor practices.

“Another challenge is the reduction of full-time-equivalent employees that the OGC has endured over the last several years. Inadequate staffing obviously effects the OGC’s ability to address the ULP backlog, particularly since the OGC has lost attorneys who had experience litigating ULP complaints. But it has also adversely impacted employee morale,” said Kurt Rumsfeld, Biden’s nominee for general counsel, at an Oct. 20 confirmation hearing.

He added that he has a “keen focus” on restoring the number of employees he feels necessary to tackle the backlog.

Employee morale has significantly fallen in that time as well, with the FLRA falling from 80.2 points in 2016 to 41.8 points in 2019 on the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings.

Ernest DuBester, who serves as the chair of the FLRA and has been renominated to that position, said addressing morale will help with tackling the backlog.

“An employee workforce that’s motivated, whose morale is high, who is engaged in the work they do, their performance is going to be great,” he said.

“They need to know that they have input. They need to know that they have a voice in the direction of the agency,” DuBester added.

Susan Grundmann, the second nominee to be a member of the FLRA, said that in her experience, building coalitions and setting timelines have been the keys to success.

Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.

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