Rallying Over Rulings

By Elizabeth Newell

Hundreds of federal employees gathered Wednesday to protest decisions that the American Federation of Government Employees contend are in contempt of collective bargaining rules.

The protesters rallied outside the Federal Labor Relations Authority offices in Washington to bring attention to what AFGE National President John Gage called "the recent rash of anti-union, anti-employee, anti-collective bargaining, and anti-logic opinions" by that body.

AFGE cited decisions dating back to Sept. 30, 2002, during its protest. In the oldest case, 58 FLRA No. 21, the labor relations authority overturned an arbitrator's decision that the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City had violated its collective bargaining agreement by vacating correctional officer posts to avoid paying employees for overtime. FLRA decided "the initial award excessively interferes with management's rights to determine its internal security practices."

In the second case, 59 FLRA No. 3 the authority dismissed a complaint by AFGE Local 4036 that the prison bureau's Federal Correctional Institution in Marianna, Fla., failed to comply with an arbitration award. An arbitrator had ruled that the agency could not allow temporary vacancies in correctional officer positions to occur without "good cause." When the agency did not decrease the number of vacancies, the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint, which the FLRA dismissed. The authority said that while the number of vacancies had not decreased, that did not prove that the reasons for having vacancies remained insufficient.

In the third case, 59 FLRA No. 26, the authority ruled against the agencies, who said that certain Social Security

Administration employees should be part of a bargaining unit. However, employees who engage in "security work [that] directly affects national security" can be exempt from bargaining units, the FLRA said.

In this case, the definition of work that "directly affects national security" came under scrutiny. A regional director, originally asked to clarify the exemption, said the employees did not have access to classified information nor did they require security clearances. She deemed that the employees did not engage in work that directly affects national security.

The FLRA disagreed, ruling "that disruption in the SSA's ability to process claims and make social security payments would have a serious adverse effect on the economic strength of the country." The authority directed the regional director to clarify the bargaining unit to exclude those employees.

In the most recent case, 59 FLRA No. 118, the authority dismissed an unfair labor practices complaint that the Social Security Administration had reduced the number of reserved parking spaces for administrative law judges in Charleston, S.C., and refused to bargain with the Association of Administrative Law Judges to the extent required.

The FLRA ruled that the reduced number of spaces had no adverse effect on employees and the agency was not required to bargain over the matter.

In addition to these four cited cases, the AFGE also criticized the makeup of the Federal Service Impasses Panel, a component of FLRA.

After President Bush fired all seven members of the impasses panel in 2002, he appointed seven new members with no background in arbitration, mediation or dispute resolution, according to AFGE.

"These two very important agencies have lost all credibility," Gage said. "As one member of the FLRA has repeatedly said in her numerous dissents, they have shown their open disdain and 'contempt' for the collective bargaining process."

While an AFGE spokeswoman told Government Executive that FLRA officials did not respond to Wednesday's protest, she said the union will hold a briefing on Monday to further address its concerns and announce its "next steps."

The FLRA did not return calls for comment.