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Some Unions Balk as Federal Labor Contracts Database Goes Live

Jan. 9, 2020, 8:00 PM

A new database of federal labor contracts is available on the Office of Personnel Management’s website, the government’s central HR agency said Jan. 9.

President Donald Trump in a May 2018 executive order called for the OPM to create the database of collective bargaining agreements.

The database “is about transparency in government,” OPM Director Dale Cabaniss said in a statement. “OPM is committed to implementing President Trump’s workforce reforms so the American people can have a more effective and efficient government.”

Some union leaders said Jan. 9 they’re skeptical that the administration’s intent with the database is to increase government transparency.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to take the worst in bad faith bargaining public so other bad actors within federal management can copy it. In other words, this is meant to weaken labor and management relations, not strengthen it,” said Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents about 110,000 federal workers.

Agency officials after registering for an account will be able to submit the text of collective bargaining agreements and arbitration awards directly to the database website, the OPM statement said. The public will be able to sort and filter agreements by agency, union, or expiration date, the OPM said, adding that public users will be able to search the database for specific terms and phrases that appear in labor agreements.

Federal labor unions said in April when the OPM first asked agencies to submit the text of all union contracts that they didn’t necessarily object to making labor agreements public but were suspicious of the administration’s motives. The executive order that called for the establishment of the database was one of three issued by Trump the same day that generally made it easier to fire federal workers and harder for unions to represent them. The federal government has about 2.1 million civilian employees, and about half of them are covered by union contracts.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said he’s not bothered by the new database.

“Our contracts have always been part of the public record, so this database does not change the important work we do on behalf of the employees we represent,” said Reardon, whose union represents about 150,000 federal workers.

Esoteric Labor Provisions

Pay and benefits generally are off-limits as bargaining topics for federal employees, but their unions can 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. Reardon said in January 2019—during what turned into a 35-day partial government shutdown—that a handful of IRS employees who were told to report to work without pay during the shutdown had invoked the hardship provisions.

Lenkart isn’t the only union leader skeptical about the reasons behind the database.

“The true intention of the president’s so-called workforce reforms is nothing about transparency, and more about eliminating federal unions and workers’ due process protections, which flies in the face of a truly transparent federal government. Don’t be fooled by the fancy rhetoric from OPM,” said Matt Biggs, secretary-treasurer of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. The union represents professional employees at a number of federal agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The White House, its Office of Management and Budget, and the OPM didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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