Will the federal labor-management relations continue under Trump? Unions have no idea

Multiple federal unions said they’ve had no interaction with the Trump administration, and they haven’t heard whether the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, a panel designed to advise the president and create partnerships between labor and agency management in the executive branch, will continue.

The council’s future, however, may be decided for its members. The executive order that extended the national labor-management relations council is set to expire Sept. 30, 2017.

President Barack Obama first signed an executive order that created the council — and called on agencies to work together with federal employees and unions to improve the delivery of government services to the public — in 2009. He signed executive orders extending the council for two more years in 2013 and 2015.

“We have no idea how this is going to go,” said Jacque Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees.

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Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said NFFE hasn’t heard from the Trump administration one way or the other about the future of the council.

“This administration has been particularly hard on federal employees, and I think the federal unions are lumped into that,” he said. “They see it as a more adversarial relationship and that’s not realistic.”

Lenkart said most of the original relationships that labor unions and agency management can remain in tact. But the national council hasn’t developed new strategic goals and hasn’t met as a group since the Obama administration ended.

“I think the unions are ready to engage,” he said. “We’re ready to sit down with [the administration] at any time.”

The National Treasury Employees Union also said it hopes the council is allowed to continue.

“We encourage the administration to extend the Council and take advantage of the relationships that have been fostered over the last seven years,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement to Federal News Radio.

AFGE, NFFE and NTEU national presidents served on the National Council on Federal on Federal Labor-Management Relations.

The lack of political leadership is perhaps another factor in the uncertainty.

The director of the Office of Personnel Management typically serves as the co-chair of the national council. But the president hasn’t appointed a new nominee to lead the agency after George Nesterczuk, Trump’s original pick for OPM director, withdrew his name.

Labor-management relationships weren’t always perfect during the Obama administration, but union leaders have said the partnerships they’ve formed with agency managers have been useful.

Agency managers at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, for example, worked with NTEU to develop a workplace excellence program for FDIC employees. Reardon has said those collaborative opportunities to brainstorm and share ideas helped agencies improve employee engagement — and their rank on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Even without a national council in place, some agencies, like the Homeland Security Department and Veterans Affairs Department are continuing to hold their own labor-management forums, Simon said. It’s ultimately up to agency mangers to decide whether those individual partnerships will continue, she said.

Union leaders had acknowledged that the future of labor-management relations this may depend on depend on President Donald Trump. And they’ve expressed some frustration that successful union-agency partnerships too often depended on the political whims of the current administration, when developing partnerships between federal unions and agency management should be common sense.

The concept of the federal labor-management partnership dates back to President Bill Clinton, who signed an executive order in 1993. President George W. Bush repealed the order shortly after taking office.

The National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations isn’t the only small, independent federal entity whose status is in limbo. Other agencies lack leadership nominations, while others are waiting for Senate confirmation.

Merit Systems Protection Board

Status: Lacks a quorum. The president hasn’t appointed any nominee to fill one of the two empty MSPB board member positions. 

Mark Robbins has been the lone board member since Susan Tsui Grundmann announced her resignation in January. With only one voting member, MSPB has lacked a quorum for months and cannot issue decisions on petitions for review.

As of Aug. 21, the board has 475 pending petitions for review, up from the 263 petitions pending at the beginning of May, the agency said.

Those numbers will only grow the longer MSPB board positions remain unfilled.

William Wiley, an attorney and former chief counsel to the chairman of MSPB and now co-founder of the Federal Law Training Group, was present at the agency when the board was in a similar position. He remembered when cases pending decisions began to pile up.

“I knew … that those cases were waiting somewhere, but I couldn’t find them,” he said. “I looked around and looked around and finally, I swear this is true, I found about 60 or 70 case files stacked in the shower that was in the front office. That was the only space they could find to put them out of the way where they wouldn’t bother anybody. … The challenge coming up… is that with only one board member, all the cases will sit in the equivalent of a shower somewhere.”

Office of Special Counsel

Status: Nominee appointed but not confirmed.

Other agencies, like the Office of Special Counsel, have nominees picked but are still waiting Senate confirmation.

Trump announced his intent back in May to nominate Henry Kerner, 20-year federal prosecutor and former staffer on both the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, to be U.S. Special Counsel.

Senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had little criticism for Kerner during his June 28 nomination hearing.

Kerner said he wanted to build on the success former Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner had started at the agency, when OSC saw a steady rise in whistleblower disclosures and prohibited personnel complaints. He also said he wants to continue much-needed upgrades to the agency’s IT systems and cybersecurity posture and improve education and outreach with agency and congressional staff.

Kerner is one of the 106 appointees who has been formally nominated but confirmed, according to the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service’s political appointee tracker. The president has 366 positions with no nominee.

Federal Services Impasses Panel

Status: The panel recently restored a quorum with Trump’s recent appointment of seven new members. The chairman and members of the panel serve staggered, five-year terms. They are not Senate confirmed positions. 

FSIP is an independent entity within the Federal Labor Relations Authority that resolves disputes that arise from negotiations between federal agencies and unions representing federal employees. Negotiations typically center around issues with the conditions of employment in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute and Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act.

Trump recently appointed Mark Anthony Carter to be FSIP chairman. He also named six additional members to serve on the panel: Andrea Fischer Newman, David Osborne, Karen Czarnecki, Donald Todd, Jonathan Riches and F. Vincent Vernuccio.

NFFE, however, said it has its concerns about the president’s recent appointments. It argues the new members “embrace a common disdain for the labor community.”

One new appointee, David Osborne, is the president and general counsel for a non-profit law firm that offers services to individuals hurt by public employee union officials.

Another new member, Donald Todd, leads Americans for Limited Government Foundation. Karen Czarnecki has worked for the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heritage Foundation.

“The diversity of this panel ranges from people who publicly campaign against unions to people that actively litigate against unions,” NFFE National President Randy Erwin said in a statement.