A federal appeals court has overturned an FLRA decision regarding the scope of bargaining obligations, holding that an already existing contract governed the issue even though it did not mention the precise aspect over which the union was seeking further bargaining.

The case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit involved the AFGE union and the Bureau of Prisons, which had negotiated a national agreement including a clause, called Article 18, setting procedures for assigning employees to the sick and annual relief rosters. Management later notified the union that it intended to consolidate the rosters of all four institutions in a complex and to assign employees among them.

The parties bargained intermittently over the matter until the agency stopped, after which the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint. The FLRA ruled for the union that the agency was obligated to continue bargaining on grounds that the contract did not cover assignments among facilities, only within each.

However, the court held that “It does not matter whether a subject was specifically discussed or contemplated during the negotiations leading to the parties’ agreement. What matters is whether a subject is within the compass of the provisions in the parties’ agreement.”

Nor does it matter that the parties negotiated for a time over the issue, or that management agreed to additional negotiations under a settlement agreement since that agreement did not concede that Article 18 did not cover the issue, the court held in Department of Justice v. FLRA, No. 16-301.