Daily Labor Report®

Federal Labor Contracts to Go Online This Year

April 15, 2019, 9:57 AM

The government’s chief HR office anticipates that a public database of federal employee union contracts will be online later this year. It’s been nearly five months since the Office of Personnel Management asked agencies to submit their data.

Margaret Weichert, the OPM’s acting director, told federal agencies Nov. 20 to submit copies of their labor agreements within 30 days for inclusion in the database. The federal government has about 2.1 million civilian employees, including about 1.2 million workers covered by union contracts. The call for a government-wide database of labor agreements was included in one of the three executive orders issued by President Donald Trump in May, and unlike other provisions in the orders, it wasn’t overturned by a court ruling in August.

“Collective bargaining agreements received by OPM will be publicly available when the database is completed,” an OPM spokesperson said April 12. The OPM will make a public announcement when the database is up and running, the spokesperson said.

Pay and benefits generally are off-limits as bargaining topics for federal employees, but their unions negotiate over other issues, such as alternative work schedules and telework arrangements.

Some more esoteric items can make their way into labor contracts, such as provisions in collective bargaining agreements covering some 70,000 IRS employees that allow them to not go to work if doing so is a hardship. Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in January that a handful of IRS employees who were told to report to work without pay during the partial government shutdown that ended Jan. 25 invoked the hardship provisions.

‘We’re Not Necessarily Adverse’

Some federal employee union officials say they’re not bothered by the concept of a public website where contracts are posted, though they expressed concerns about how the Trump administration will use the database.

Many union locals already post their agreements with federal agencies, according to David Cann, director of bargaining for the American Federation of Government Employees. The AFGE, the largest federal employee union, posts contracts from a variety of agencies, including the departments of Defense, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs, along with the Social Security Administration and the Coast Guard, he said.

“We’re not necessarily adverse” to a website maintained by the government where labor agreements can be viewed by the public, Cann said.

Taxpayers should be able to see the agreements because they’re the ones paying for them, according to Rachel Greszler, a research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

In fiscal year 2016, federal workers spent more than 3.6 million hours—the equivalent of about 1,900 full-time workers—working for their unions, she said.

“If taxpayers are going to spend upwards of $177 million per year on federal union activities, they deserve to know what’s in federal union contracts,” Greszler said, citing the most recent OPM report on what’s known in the government as “official time.”

Labor Battles

The National Federation of Federal Employees, which like the AFGE is an AFL-CIO affiliate, also posts many agreements online, said Steve Lenkart, the union’s executive director.

NFFE is nonetheless suspicious of the administration’s motives in seeking to make all contracts public, Lenkart said.

“The qualifier is this administration,” Lenkart said.

Federal employee unions are battling the administration on a number of fronts—including over the three executive orders issued by Trump that made it easier to fire federal workers, required the government to review labor agreements for cost savings, and restricted federal employees from spending more than 25 percent of their work hours on union representation matters. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is currently considering the administration’s appeal of a district court ruling in August that threw out large portions of the executive orders.

Reardon said in November, when Weichert called on agencies to submit their labor agreements, that he’s concerned the administration will use the database to impose a “one-size-fits-all” approach to bargaining. Agencies and unions “should have the flexibility to negotiate agreements, in accordance with applicable law, unencumbered by additional dictates from OPM or the administration,” he said.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cynthia Harasty at charasty@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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