THE FORWARD-LOOKING NEGOTIATOR
Federal employee unions have been bargaining for over 35 years now—and a few for over 50 years. So, it is reasonable to ask when all the reasonable issues will have been addressed and there is little to need for further bargaining. In fact, it is critical that unions keep focused on what issues to bargain over next because once members conclude they have all been addressed there is a lot less need for collective bargaining.
By now most unions have negotiated extensively over appraisal and promotions plans, AWS and telework, and the full range of institutional issues from grievance procedures to official time. Some have even worked out rules governing incentive awards, transit subsidies, and the other dozen or so money issues. So, what’s next? Here is one topic worth drilling into more deeply than most unions have. We will pass along others from time to time.
REASSIGNMENTS- Lots of contracts contain provisions giving reassignment opportunities to the most senior qualified volunteer or to the least senior if no one wants the job. But not too many contain clauses entitling employees to temporary or permanent reassignments when faced with a family hardship, allowing equally qualified employees to swap jobs whenever they want for any reason, or permitting employees to change workstations to any open workstation within the commuting area (or beyond) if it will significantly reduce commuting time or costs.
And almost no one has a provision requiring management to fill a vacant position with an internal reassignment eligible before it fills the job from the streets or outside the unit. For example, suppose an agency decides to fill a secretarial position in the Columbia, South Carolina office and none of the other employees in the commuting area wants the job. Normally, the agency turns to those not yet employed by the feds and hires them into the job—perhaps right out of college. However, why shouldn’t it be obligated to offer the job to anyone in the bargaining unit located anywhere else in the country so long as that person is fully qualified and pays his/her own moving expenses? We can’t think of any good reason. If the agency has an employee working as a secretary at the same grade in another office, e.g., Brooklyn, NY, where real estate prices have skyrocketed in the last ten years, unions should be demanding that it fill the South Carolina job with a volunteer from Brooklyn assuming he/she is qualified, and send the vacancy to Brooklyn to be filled from that local area.
Management will tell you that forces its office to compete against one another for the good volunteers and that it might require that it fill a single vacancy multiple times as people move around the country. But all that is easily controlled through a few rules limiting how often an employee can move this way, how many can leave an office in a time period, collecting reassignment interest applications only once or twice a year to enable the agency to plan, and even delaying moves in certain situations.
No employee should be required to see a vacancy in a position he/she already holds and is fully qualified to perform filled with someone off the streets merely because the job is in another commuting area or even just another local office. Preference should go current employees over new hires. Too many employees just coming into the government seem to think that once on board they can move anywhere in the country where the agency has an office and a job he/she is qualified to do. The reality is that many managers actively work to keep their current employees from going anywhere else in the agency. They do not want a vacant job on their group, they do not want to train a new employee, and they do not to take a risk on someone no one knows no matter how sparkling the resume they offer. It is time unions started moving deep into this collective bargaining area.