Fedweek

Washington DC - Sept 2019: Rally on the Capitol grounds attended by federal employee unions including IFPTE, AFGE, NTEU, NFFE, protesting executive orders curbing bargaining rights. AFGE photo.

House-passed language aimed at the Trump administration’s executive orders restricting bargaining was dropped as Congress crafted two packages of spending bills to carry the government through the current fiscal year.

The House had voted in its version of the annual general government spending bill to bar agencies from implementing any collective bargaining agreement that has not been agreed to or imposed through arbitration, a provision that further would have applied retroactive to the issuance of the orders.

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The impact could have been to require some agencies to return to the bargaining table, after having declared deadlocks and having imposed their bargaining positions as policies. Those policies have affected matters including telework, alternative work schedules, official time for employees with union roles, and more.

Groups of Democrats from both the House and Senate had urged conferees to accept the House language — the Senate had no counterpart provision — but the final bill containing the general government measure (HR-1158) only orders the FLRA to produce a report “detailing the impact” of the trio of executive orders on bargaining and disciplinary matters.

That report, which would be due in three months, could be used by Congress to revisit the issue next year. The AFGE union said for example that it “will continue to fight for this legislation as our members’ rights remain under assault by this administration.”

However, such a report may not reach many conclusions. Many parts of the orders went into effect only two months ago after a prior court injunction was lifted, and rules to carry out many of the provisions are still only in draft form, although OPM has issued guidance.

While unions have filed a number of unfair labor practice complaints at the FLRA against agencies, none of those charges have advanced through the formal decision process there—first by an administrative law judge and then potentially by the FLRA governing board—because the FLRA general counsel position has been vacant since November 2017. While a nominee cleared the Senate committee level in July, the vote fell along party lines and the nomination has not advanced to a full Senate vote.