GETTING MORE WORK? THE UNION CAN HELP
MEMBERS ALERT! With retirements, buyouts, and budget cuts just around the corner, don’t forget what the union can do for you when some manager assigns you more work, new duties, or reduces the staff available to do the same amount of work. If you have forgotten the special powers a union has when any of those things happen, let’s go over them again.
Where employees are not members of a unionized workforce, management can demand they do more work, different work, or even someone else’s work in addition to their own—and there is nothing employees can do about it. If all the new work makes it impossible for those employees to take the leave they wanted, too bad. If it reduces non-union employees’ appraisal scores, too bad. If it causes them to lose a cash award or even a promotion, too bad yet again. If it makes those employees miserable and depressed, they have our sympathies, but once again ditto on the “too bad” thing. Given the pending substantial reduction of federal employees without any similar reduction in the work of the federal government, all of that could come true for some non-unionized employees very soon.
However, if you are a member of a unionized unit, management probably can’t do any of those things to you until it tells the union specifically who is getting what extra work and negotiates an agreement with the union listing various accommodations management will be making so that the employees’ workload remains just as manageable as it is today.
For example, when one agency downsized its workforce without downsizing the work, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) found management had violated the law because it had not postponed the extra work until bargaining with the union. AFGE, 40 FLRA 1147. When another agency detailed employees away from their regular work unit, without reducing the unit’s workload, once again the FLRA ruled the law had been broken because management had not yet signed an agreement with the union. NTEU,24 FLRA 999.
When management violates its obligation to notify and bargain with the union in advance of ordering employees to undertake more work or work with different demands, the FLRA and courts can require management to do a number of things to make it up to the overburdened employees. Legally, managers can be required to take the extra work away, correct evaluations for any errors employees made because of the extra work, grant retroactive performance awards the employees would have received except for management’s illegal actions, reimburse employees for any sick leave they took due to the increased stress, etc. In short, management generally has to compensate the employees for any harm they suffered.
When the union does get notice of the specifics of management’s plan for getting the work done after the downsizing, buyouts and end-of-year retirements, it can do a number of things to help employees. For example, it can make sure the extra work is spread evenly among qualified employees, it can demand that traditional work deadlines be relaxed, it can negotiate how work is counted so that employees do not lose out on awards and their traditional appraisal scores, it can get employees extra flexibilities to get the work done, it can pressure management to reduce the performance standards, etc. Often, all of this convinces management to just drop certain tasks done by the departing employees rather than radically change how it manages.
So, if you are walking back from one of the many going-away parties over the next month for all those colleagues leaving government and your manager says she would like to talk to you about how you can help with the transition, remember all the help a union can give you to get through all this. If the manager poses the same issue in a group meeting and asks for ideas about how to get the work done, that also violates law because it puts too much pressure on employees to volunteer to do the work. The only people management can talk to about how it is going to get all the remaining work done is the union. If that takes months to work out, so be it.
Ideally, the political leaders would not be taking out their own frustrations on federal employees and we had the budget we need to help those who need the assistance we provide every day. But, they have made their decisions and have to live with the consequences. If their constituents do not get the same service as before, perhaps the elected leaders will remember how valuable the work of the federal employees is to their own reelection.
(Pass this on to colleagues who are in this situation.)