The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) just dropped a megaton of bad news on its own employees. It is withholding everyone’s annual performance bonus due this month, even managers’ below the SES level, unless the employees’ union NTEU drops its bargaining demands. 

The union is currently negotiating for an improved award system that not only guarantees employees awards if they perform at a certain level, but also provides similarly-situated employee the same amount of award money.  It has contract provisions like that at many agencies. NTEU also has a pending arbitration case challenging management’s unilateral decision last year to cut the bonuses in half. That could generate over a million dollars in back pay or employees.

Obviously, NRC executives are deathly afraid to let an arbitrator determine how much it owes employees from last year or what the rules of the program will be going forward.  NRC executives are not the first ones ever to punish their own employees to avoid tough bargaining with a union.  But they may be the first in the federal government to punish employees’ children to squeeze a union.  Who else do they think is going to suffer the most in the holiday season if management withholds millions in performance award dollars that the majority of the employees were counting on?

Right behind the impact on the children is the damage this does to the residents around NRC’s Montgomery County, MD and other offices. By holding the awards money hostage approximately $2 million dollars will be withheld from the local economy that would have produced more income for other country residents.  What are the odds that NRC executives never told the local Congressional Representative or Chamber of Commerce that it has decided to withhold these already appropriated funds this year?

The irony here is that NRC SES executives hope that their employees, who do some of the most sophisticated technical work in government, are not bright enough to understand that this decision is totally management’s.  The NRC plan is that employees will blame the union no matter how irrational that is.

Unfortunately for management, NRC employees recognized in an instant that management is not just abusing them in hopes that the union negotiators weaken, but that management thinks so little of its own employees that it will punish them and their families as a bargaining tactic.

This management bombshell is likely to generate fallout for years to come at NRC. After all, while some employees will not miss the money this holiday season, few will soon forget these details:

  • Management is withholding money that employees have already earned over the last 12 months by performing above the norm,
  • This is money many were counting on for holiday gifts and celebrations,
  • Management is not withholding performance bonuses for the SES executives,
  • Management is punishing its employees because their union has merely exercised its right under the law to take disputes to binding arbitration,
  • Management is insisting on a awards program where the criteria for an award are kept secret before and after awards are given out, managers have total discretion to decide who gets an award and for how much, and management refuses to release the data the union needs to determine whether the award decision comply with the Civil Rights Act, and
  • Management sparked the employees’ bargaining demands when last year it paid bargaining unit employees less than the 1% of salary that OPM and OMB recommended so that it could pay its managers 1.2% of their salaries.

But, let us end on a highnote, albeit sarcastic, by congratulating NRC executives for also damaging OMB’s and OPM’s long-term efforts to push pay-for-performance.  It has provied federal employees one more example of why making pay dependent on management’s generosityis a terrible, terrible idea. 


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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