Overturning the FLRA, a federal court has said that when “continuance” clauses under a labor-management contract are in effect, a federal agency may not impose policies that are contrary to the contract’s terms, nor may an agency conduct a new review of the contract to potentially disapprove it.
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in case No. 2020-1400 noted that when a contract agreement is reached, an agency head may review it before it takes effect and may disapprove it on grounds that it conflicts with law. Once a contract is in effect, it added, an agency may not enforce policies that would violate it.
At the request of the Agriculture Department during the Trump administration, the FLRA issued guidance saying that once such a clause kicks in, an agency can conduct a new review and may begin to enforce policies that conflict with the agreement. Several federal employee unions appealed and their cases were consolidated.
The court said that such a clause “manifests the parties’ intent to be bound by the terms of their original agreement pending further negotiations” and simply lengthens the term of that contract. It noted that the law allows for review by the agency head when a new agreement is “executed,” saying that “invoking a continuance clause does not execute a new agreement.”
Further, the law forbids employing agencies from enforcing most regulations that conflict with a collective bargaining “agreement” that was “in effect” before the regulation issued. “An extended contract is the same ‘agreement’ that was ‘in effect’ before the extension. And so long as it remains in effect, the employing agency may not enforce new regulations that conflict with it,” the ruling said.
The FLRA ruling at issue was one of its many 2-1 decisions along party lines in favor of management in recent years with a Republican majority on the board, several of which have since been overturned by the appeals court. The board in May changed party control with the confirmation of a Democrat to replace a Republican whose term had expired.