All union negotiators should be aware of what is in other contracts, but that can be hard to do as many exceed 200 pages. So, from time-to-time our small army of FEDSMILL researchers will go through contracts to highlight the more interesting clauses. Today we are taking a look at the NFFE and Forest Service contract, which you can find in the Compare Contracts portion of the FEDSMILL menu bar. There is no doubt that individual employees should be allowed to talk to their managers about anything, but under this contract managers are required to involve the union if the discussion is about working conditions.  It is a good way to reduce the possibility of illegal union bypasses, e.g., working out with an individual employee how to increase her workspace.

Article 4, Sec. 7- EMPLOYEE RIGHTS

This Master Agreement does not prevent any employee, including Union representatives, from bringing matters of personal concern to the attention of Management. However, if the discussion becomes a formal discussion, then the procedures in Article 5.4 regarding Union notification will apply.

A very important clause in any agreement is one which gives employees the right to reassign to vacant positions management wants to fill, especially, if the two positions have the same series, grade, and qualifications, e.g., a secretary in one group moving to a vacant secretarial position in another group or office.  While this contract does not make that a right, it does put a burden on management to declare why it will not move the employee. That could provide evidence of an illegal motive.

Article 4, Sec. 11

An employee may request, in writing, reassignment to a different position or a different supervisor at any time. Management will consider the request and will respond in writing, stating the reasons for the decision, within 28 days. When the request is due to conflict with his or her work supervisor and the employee has tried to resolve the conflict, the employee may request the assistance of higher level Management.

Thanks to all the supply-side, trickle-down, don’t tax the rich advocates out there, employees in the future are going to face more indebtedness problems.  This clause provides solid procedures to protect the employee.

Article 4, Sec. 16

A Notice of Intent to Offset Salary and a Bill for Collection establishing the dollar amount of the alleged liability will be issued to the employee 30 days in advance of the collection action being initiated. The Notice of Intent will inform the employee of the nature and amount of the indebtedness; the intention of the Forest Service to collect the debt through deductions from pay; the amount of installments for repayment, if any; the right to Union representation; and an ex­planation of the rights of the employee under 5 USC 5514 and 5 CFR 550.1104 as to the right to file a waiver, the right to a hearing on the existence and amount of the debt, and that a timely filing of a petition for hearing will stay the collec­tion proceedings.

All too often managers want to know too many details about why union rep needs official time, e.g., which employee are you talking to, what is the nature of her grievance, what will you be looking for in these files you want to review.  This contract steps up to what is required and properly limits it.


Release Procedures for Use of Official Time: Procedures for release are as follows:

a. The Union official and his or her supervisor will communicate with each other regarding:

(1) The type of representation matter (See 5.a),

(2) The approximate length of time needed,

(3) Location, and

(4) A way to contact when away from their normal duty station.

This is not intended to be a barrier to releasing a Union official. Union officials and supervisors may mutually agree on alternate arrangements for release procedures of a continuing nature.

 The lifeblood of any union is membership and this contract provides the union some basic rights to use government space and equipment to recruit.

Article 5, Sec. 7

Membership Drives: Upon request and subject to normal security limitations, the Union shall be granted authority to conduct up to two membership drives at any location within a 1-year period, up to 45-days duration each, before and after duty hours, and at break periods and lunch periods. Upon request, Management shall provide the Union with available, reasonable, and visible space; tables; bulletin boards; and easels for use in drives. Current government communication technologies shall be made available in accordance with Article 7.

The union has 28 days in which to decide whether it wants to invoke its right over a proposed mid-term change.  That is as long a period as we have seen in any contract.


The designated official of the proposing party will furnish Article 11 Issue Notification (as per the checklist) delineating proposed changes to the designated official of the receiving party. After receipt of the Notice, the receiving party has up to 28 days to invoke negotiations using the Article 11 Response to Notification checklist and submit proposed ground rules (as per the checklist) and any initial counterproposals if traditional negotia­tion process is used. Any additional timelines for exchange of proposals will be mutually agreed upon.

Here is another major membership building clause.  We particularly like the advance notice the union gets of orientation sessions and the hour long period to address employees.  Just as management uses orientations to brief employees on the rules of the workplace, the union should have time to familiarize them with the union itself as well as the dozen or so most important provisions of the contract.


6. The Union will be granted a period of time to speak at group orientation sessions that are held for employees. Such time will normally not exceed 1 hour, although additional amounts may be negotiated at the appropriate level. The Union will receive a reasonable notice at least 7 days prior to local sessions and at least 30 days prior to regional or national sessions.

7. Further details of Union participation in the orientation process may be negotiated at the appropriate level.

This is a very helpful clause for those employees whose career-ladder promotion is in jeopardy.


If a supervisor’s review leads to the conclusion that the employee’s perfor­mance does not warrant a promotion or that other factors exist that may delay a promotion, the supervisor will provide a notice to the employee in writing 60 days before the employee is eligible for the promotion. The written notice will explain where the employee’s performance is lacking and advise what the employee must do to qualify for the promotion.

b. If the decision not to promote was based on performance, the employee will be given 60 days to improve to a level warranting promotion. If, at the end of 60 days, performance has improved to an acceptable level, the employee will be promoted to the higher grade. If 60-day advance notice requirements are not met and performance is found to be acceptable at the end of the 60-day period, the promotion will be made retroactive to the date the employee met time-in-grade requirements.

This is one of the five or so most important provisions of any contract.  It places a burden on management to bring performance deficiencies to the employee’s attention as soon as they are spotted.  It should stop employees being surprised at their annual evaluations with a lower score based on errors made throughout the year that were never brought to their attention.


If at any time during the rating period, the rating official deems an employee’s performance to be deficient in any element, standard, or measure, it is the rating official’s responsibility to promptly communicate with the employee to identify and address the issue with the objective of preventing the need for adverse action

As our workforce ages, wellness becomes more and more important. Given the physical nature of most Forest Service jobs, NFFE got these employees time on the clock to workout.

Article 26, Sec 4- SAFETY AND HEALTH

Wellness Programs: The Parties recognize the benefits of a physically fit and healthy workforce and agree upon the appropriate arrangements whereby em­ployees may voluntarily participate in a wellness program, which would include administrative leave not to exceed 3 hours per week, if the workload permits. The Local parties may mutually agree to exempt administrative leave as a provi­sion of their wellness program. If use of administrative leave in lieu of duty time is not feasible, Local parties are encouraged to consider some reimbursement for fees associated with off-duty wellness activities. The specific details for each unit’s wellness program will be left to the Local parties. The Parties fully expect collaborative negotiations at the local and intermediate levels to support the health and well-being of employees to the fullest extent possible. However, if disagreement arises through negotiations, or application of local agreements, 3 hours per week of administrative leave is the default if the workload permits.

Well-trained union reps are important to everyone, including management.  This contract contains a fair amount of time for the union to accomplish that.  Note also the option for local supplemental bargaining.


(1) The Parties agree that a bank of hours of official time will be made avail­able to each Local Unit each year to enable Union officials to attend Union-sponsored training. Travel time will not be subtracted from the bank of hours available for this training. A minimum bank of hours will be allocated in the following manner:

(a) Local units with 100 or less Bargaining Unit employees: 120 hours.

(b) Local units with more than 100, but less than 200 Bargaining Unit employees: 160 hours.

(c) Local units with 200, but less than 300 Bargaining Unit employees: 200 hours.

(d) For Local units with more than 300 Bargaining Unit employees, an additional 40 hours is allowed for each additional 100 Bargaining Unit employees, or portion thereof.

f. The number of hours in a Local unit’s bank may be increased by mutual agree­ment of the parties at the Local level.

It is hard to imagine a more important protection than against contracting out employees’ work.  Most unions have not yet developed a strong article for doing so, but this NFFE contract gets them off to a good start with some wonderful ideas.

Article 38, Sec. 1- CONTRACTING WORK OUT

b. In accordance with Article 11, Management agrees to notify the Union when a decision is made to contract out work that affects the working conditions of Bargaining Unit employees and will negotiate implementation, as appropriate.

Article 38, Sec 3-4

3. Management will provide an opportunity, upon request, for a Union representa­tive in the “walk through” by bidders of the function undergoing a cost study or a contracting decision that affects Bargaining Unit employees.

4. The Union, upon request, may attend public bid openings and review independent Government estimates at the time of openings. They also may review in-house cost estimates under the provisions of the A-76 Circular.


About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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