NTEU looks for a 'fresh start' for federal employees under Biden

The union's blueprint for immediate action joins with NAPA's working group on the federal workforce in calling for the next director of OPM to abandon a regulation-heavy approach.

conference attendees (Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com)

The incoming Biden administration offers a chance to "repair the damage" done to management and federal employee relations, National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon said on a call with reporters on Nov. 17.

NTEU represents about 150,000 federal employees across 33 departments and agencies.

Reardon said that the undoing of Trump policies will mark "positive movement for federal employees" and expressed confidence that the policies of the last four years could be reversed.

"It's going to take some work beyond just rescinding executive orders, but the damage is not permanent," he said.

At the top of the list of recommendations is the reversal of three 2018 executive orders, which NTEU officials said that the Biden team has agreed to do. The orders targeted the use of official time, the cost of collective bargaining agreements, the standards for grievance negotiations and turnaround plans for federal employees.

The reversal of those executive orders will change the calculus of contract negotiations by not putting agency bargaining teams "under orders to gut contracts and refuse to negotiate in good faith," Reardon said.

Since the creation of those executive orders, NTEU has pursued litigation and grievance procedures against them, although they have affected some of the contract negotiations already.

Reardon referenced the contract negotiation breakdowns at Health and Human Services. In December 2019, an independent arbitrator resolved an internal grievance at the Health and Human Services Department in favor of NTEU, ruling that HHS violated federal labor law when it implemented rulings from the Federal Service Impasses Panel while in contract negotiations on outstanding articles.

There are currently several articles in that contract still being negotiated, said Jim Bailey, NTEU'S National Executive Vice President.

"What we would like to see when the new administration takes over is HHS to return to the bargaining table and start afresh," said Bailey. That could also settle pending litigation from NTEU over HHS' implementation of the FSIP decision.

The union also has cases "in the pipeline" to go before the Federal Labor Relations Authority once the makeup of its members changes under the new administration. The cases could be chances for the FLRA to reverse decisions made in recent years.

NTEU's blueprint also calls for a shift in the Office of Personnel Management away from an emphasis on regulations to one of providing agencies support "to allow parties room to negotiate terms of conditions of employment better tailored to agencies' specific missions."

This echoes the proposed text for a workforce executive order crafted by a National Academy of Public Administration working group on the federal workforce. It included a section encouraging the next director of the Office of Personnel Management to pursue a culture change moving the agency away from rote enforcement and compliance to allowing agencies flexibility in hiring and promotion.

NTEU'S list of proposed actions also includes the reinstatement of Labor-Management forums where managers, employees and union representatives can discuss government operations, a request also made by the National Federation of Federal Employees.

Like other federal employee groups, NTEU's list of immediate action items includes rescinding Trump's executive orders creating a new "schedule F" and those targeting certain concepts in diversity and inclusion training.

NTEU also made requests in the area of nominations. The blueprint requests that the president-elect replace Federal Services Impasse Panel members; re-nominate Democrat-appointee Ernest DuBester to the FLRA and replace FLRA member James Abbott; nominate members to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which has a growing backlog of cases due to the lack of a quorum, and nominate a general counsel to the FLRA.

The union also included a re-shuffling of authority for FSIP removals away from the FRLA, and called for the incoming president to rescind a memo allowing the Secretary of Defense to exclude Department of Defense agencies from the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute.