Fedweek

AFGE members wait to protest against government shutdown, outside of the U.S. Capitol on October 4, 2013. The memo is the latest in a series of steps from the Biden administration favorable to unions in the federal workplace. Image: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Shutterstock

OPM has told agencies to review whether employees have been wrongly ruled ineligible for union representation, as called for by a 2021 Biden administration executive order on “worker organizing and empowerment” and a 2022 report from an administration task force on carrying out that order.

“As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government can and should lead by example in encouraging worker organizing and collective bargaining,” a memo says.

It tells agencies to review and assess whether employees “are properly excluded from bargaining unit coverage” under federal labor-management law, and “work with any unions that represent other employees in the organization to correct, if necessary, the bargaining unit status of employees in federal sector positions which have been excluded.”

They further should consider going to the FLRA along with any applicable union to clarify bargaining unit coverage, “particularly for bargaining unit employees who encumber positions transitioning to remote work. The plain wording of the unit description should not necessarily dictate the outcome for employees who encumber positions transitioning to remote work.”

It added: “OPM acknowledges agencies undertaking a comprehensive review of bargaining unit coverage may conclude existing bargaining unit employees who encumber positions should be excluded from bargaining unit coverage under the Statute. Such matters will be resolved by the FLRA.”

The memo is the latest in a series of steps from the Biden administration favorable to unions in the federal workplace. Among those are guidance encouraging agencies to create labor-management forums and involve unions in more decisions outside the bargaining context; to provide job candidates and newly hired employees information about union rights, including allowing unions to be involved in new employee orientation; and to promptly process employee requests to have dues withheld.

According to the task force report last year, 1.2 million of the 2.1 million federal employees outside the Postal Service are represented by unions, although only about a third of those are dues-paying union members. Some 300,000 employees are eligible to be represented by a union but are not, it said.

The memo does not affect the USPS, where the union representation rate and the dues-paying rate are higher.

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2023 Federal Employees Handbook