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Biden Cleans House at Labor Impasse Panel After Union Gripes (1)

Feb. 3, 2021, 4:07 PM; Updated: Feb. 3, 2021, 6:50 PM

The Biden administration has dismissed the Trump-appointed members of a panel that’s responsible for helping to resolve labor disputes between federal agencies and unions.

All 10 members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel were asked by the White House to resign no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to a spokesman with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which oversees the FSIP. Eight members of the 10-seat panel resigned, and two were terminated after refusing to do so, the spokesman, Aloysius Hogan, said in a statement Wednesday.

It is customary when control of the White House is transferred between political parties for the new president to replace the panel’s membership, but President Joe Biden acted more quickly than his predecessors. The Trump-appointed membership had faced criticism from organized labor that they were unfairly siding with agencies in deadlocked talks over labor contracts.

Former President Donald Trump dismissed all members of the FSIP in May 2017—about four months after he took office—and then moved that summer to begin installing a new panel. Former President Barack Obama dismissed the panel in March 2009 and began naming new members that September.

FSIP members are appointed by the White House and serve at the pleasure of the president; they don’t require Senate confirmation and don’t have defined terms.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 700,000 government workers, hailed Biden’s action in a statement Tuesday night.

“FSIP is a critical component in the federal negotiating process, and we look forward to President Biden’s future picks issuing just decisions, unencumbered by political interference,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said.

The union previously alleged, both in public statements and in a lawsuit, that the FSIP under Trump was improperly imposing labor contracts that favored agencies over their unions.

Questions Over Role for Senate

Bob Gilson, who served on the panel until resigning Tuesday evening, said decisions were made independently, based on members’ individual judgments. If unions or an agency presented good arguments, “they would listen” and rule based on the facts, he told Bloomberg Law.

Gilson, a longtime agency-side labor relations representative, said it was “gracious” of the White House to give members a chance to resign before being terminated.

“They could have told us to get out of Dodge,” he said.

Once Biden appoints new members, the panel likely will focus on negotiating voluntary agreements to settle bargaining disputes between federal agencies and unions that represent government employees, rather than issuing decisions that mostly side with agencies, Joe Schimansky, the executive director of the FSIP from 1996 to 2016, told Bloomberg Law in January.

AFGE previously argued in a motion before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the FSIP didn’t have the authority to settle a labor dispute between AFGE Council 222 and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development because the panel’s members weren’t Senate-confirmed.

On Jan. 27, a week after Biden took office, the union withdrew its motion for a preliminary injunction against the FSIP. If AFGE‘s request had been granted, Biden‘s future picks for the FSIP could have needed Senate confirmation, slowing the appointment of a new, more pro-labor panel.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service Employees Organization, the National Weather Service, and officials acting on behalf of the FSIP filed a joint motion to stay pending litigation brought by the weather service union, which also alleged the labor panel doesn’t have authority to issue decisions in labor disputes because its members aren’t Senate-confirmed.

The joint motion calls on the court to stay the litigation until March 5, “to allow the parties to determine whether the underlying dispute may be resolved through means other than litigation.”

(Updated with additional reporting, starting in 9th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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