THE CHAIRMAN’S FAVORITE MANAGEMENT BLUNDER
One of the best ways to teach is to tell a story and our chairman reels off one after another at board meetings. But he has a favorite and it involves a case precedent that has not been cited by the FLRA since 1991. Here is what happened. It was early in 2007, during one of those periods where the political party in charge had installed an anti-union group of anything-but-neutral, knuckle-dragging, tongue-swallowers on the FSIP—much like today. As if that was not bad enough for the chairman’s union, the agency was led by a mean-spirited, operate-from-the-shadows, LR weasel who sent a truly obnoxious, hyped-up, union-hating chief negotiator out to do his dirty work. Imagine Mr. Clean hyped up on crystal meth and throw in a record-setting amount of arrogance about his self-declared superiority to any union rep on earth. That was the setting when the union had to negotiate a new term agreement and our chairman was the chief negotiator. Obviously, with the next Presidential election 18 or so months away, the best strategy was to figure out how to stall bargaining—and then pray—just like it is today.
The agency proposed punishing ground rules, e.g., no travel and per diem, an accelerated bargaining schedule, no prep time for the union team, etc. The chairman did his best to stall, but by late 2007 the agency had petitioned the Panel to take jurisdiction and finish the union off. At the hearing, Mr. Clean was at his arrogant best, mocking the union, painting it as a bunch of liars and so on. The union pushed back pointing to a number of gaps in the agency’s ground rules which would likely lead to confusion at several points during negotiations and litigation. It asked the Panel to send the parties back to bargaining to fill those gaps, but the management fix was in. Shortly after the hearing the Panel issued a decision and it was as bad as could be expected.
The Panel’s decision had barely gotten to our chairman’s union desk for a quick read when Mr. Clean called primarily to gloat, but also to show his graciousness by offering to fill those ground rule gaps if the union wanted to. (Do you see the management mistake yet?)
Our chairman nearly had to bite his tongue clear through to muster a very restrained, soft response. “That would be nice of you. Thanks, for doing that and I will get right back to you as soon as I get your suggestions. Let’s wrap this up today.”
Riding the thrill of his total victory from the Panel, Mr. Clean sent a revised version of his ground rules almost shooting out of the union’s fax machine. AND THAT IS WHEN THE UNION DROPPED THE HAMMER ON HIM AND THE AGENCY.
The union almost instantly responded with a fax saying it agreed to try to fill the gaps in the ground rules, but had some counter-proposals it would like the agency to consider. It also proposed a schedule for the parties to meet to begin negotiations over these amendments to the ground rules. Stated differently, the union made a record of the fact that intentionally or not the agency had reopened negotiations on the ground rules and the union planned months of additional bargaining before a return to the Panel is late 2008. This management, self-anointed, stable genius of a negotiator, who claimed he had never-ever been out-maneuvered or smarted by a union and that he doubted any of them could, let his ignorance of bargaining law snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
You see, way back in 1991 FLRA faced a situation where after a FSIP interest arbitrator issued his final and binding decision the parties had some additional discussions/negotiations about the agreement. When the agency subsequently tried to allege that the interest-arbitrator’s decision was not only final and binding, but also officially executed the agreement, the union disagreed—and the FLRA sided with the union.
Later than year in AFGE and DVA, 39 FLRA 1055 (1991) the Authority wrote that where there is a “basis on which to conclude, that the parties engaged in further negotiations after issuance of the FSIP decision or that any further actions were necessary after such issuance for the parties to execute their agreement” that the FSIP decision did not execute the final agreement.
When “The LR Weasel” found out about this, he nearly stroked-out. And we do not know what happened behind closed agency doors, but Mr. Clean soon left the agency, the government, and Washington, D.C.
Within days of the exchange of faxes, the agency LR boss installed himself as chief negotiator and worked out a ground rules agreement very favorable to the union, e.g., almost a half-million in travel money, reasonable prep time, a good schedule, etc. The Presidential election came and went with an all new Panel composed of actual labor-management neutral rather than political hit men and the final term agreement was a very fine one.
As we have said before, expertise is power.