ANOTHER PRESIDENTIAL BLUNDER HANDCUFFS AGENCY MANAGERS
A basic law of physics is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The President just reconfirmed his—let’s call it unfamiliarity–of that law by appointing the most anti-union group of alleged neutrals to the FSIP in the history of the Act. The uninitiated of the world unquestionably see that as a great thing for agency managers who will now win perhaps even more than the 90% of disputes that Becky Norton Dunlop’s Bunch delivered for agencies during President W’s term. However, those with actual experience and sophistication in labor relations know that appointing a union-hostile Panel undoubtedly will produce a union reaction that creates more problems for agencies seeking to make midterm changes. Let’s call them the unintended consequences of a poorly thought out decision.
Facing the union-hating labor relations equivalent of an MS-13 hit team at FSIP, unions will now drag out bargaining any and every way they can. POPA, with the help of a really dense management team, stretched out the renegotiation of its term agreement for over two decades beginning in the Reagan era. So, it should not be hard following that blueprint to fend off agency efforts to vastly redo term agreements through the next three and one-half years. But that only means agencies will lose an opportunity to take back past term contract concessions, which is hardly a deep hardship.
The real damage done management from stocking the Panel with union-buster will come in the mid-term arena. Knowing that they will never get a fair hearing at impasse, many unions will do everything they can to drag out mid-term bargaining. There are cases of unions stretching out mid-term bargaining for years, and of course agencies have to delay making changes throughout that entire period. For example, if an agency wants to replace employee laptops with ones that will substantially boost productivity, those laptops may have to sit on the loading dock for years while mid-term bargaining inches forward. We once saw a chart in a union negotiator’s office listing 12 different ways to legally slowdown agency efforts to make mid-term changes in order to boost union influence over the final deal. Trump’s decision to treat unions as the enemy has probably put that chart and similar ones front and center in most union negotiators’ offices. Beyond that, when agencies get so frustrated they unilaterally implement, the back pay remedies will drive up agency costs. Lest anyone forget, one agency went to federal court last year virtually begging it to overturn an arbitration decision stemming from a unilateral and illegal change that left it on the hook for $900 million in back pay. The court dismissed its plea.
The best part of the recent era of professional labor-management relationship is that many agency were able to expedite term and midterm bargaining to lower costs and speed up implementation of agency proposed changes in technology, methods of doing work, redirecting employees priorities, etc. Agencies will have to come up with a way to work around the new FSIP if they hope to keep their employees’ representatives as friend with labor-management benefits.