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Has an Obama Executive Order Put Federal Agencies Into Union Bosses’ Hands?

Is a form of union-management cooperation being morphed into collusion?

There is no way to put this that does not sound alarmist. However, when you read the document [below the fold] and give due consideration to all of the ramifications—including national security as the TSA agents begin voting whether or not to unionize—it will be hard not to be concerned that…

The President of the United States of America has turned over a significant portion of the Executive Branch of the United States government to union bosses.

Here’s the background:

On December 9, 2009, in the middle of the health care debate, President Obama issued Executive Order 13522, entitled Creating Labor-Management Forums to Improve Delivery of Government Services. Here is the list of agencies affected, as well as their initial reports regarding actions taken to comply with the EO.

Due to the timing in 2009, very little attention was paid to this Executive Order. However, over the past year, per the EO’s directive, the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations was formed and has been meeting. Also within the text, the EO orders Executive Branch agencies to form labor-management forums with the unions that represent the Executive Branch agency employees. While labor-management cooperation can be a good thing in the proper setting, the fact of the matter is, the implementation of the President’s Executive Order seems to put a tremendous amount of power into the hands of union bosses who may or may not be employed by the federal government.

Last Wednesday, January 19th, the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations held one of its joint meetings (view previous meeting schedule here). During the meeting, apparently a handout was given which was signed by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, as well as the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget. The handout is a startling document considering the amount of information and decision-making power that union bosses are being given.

In the text of the third paragraph, some light is shed on just how much decision-making is handed over to the “pre-decisional” involvement process:

…as the Executive Order expressly requires, agencies should also allow predecisional involvement with unions in all workplace matters to the fullest extent practicable, without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining under 5 U.S.C. 7106.  As stated in the Executive Order, “Management should discuss workplace challenges and problems with labor and endeavor to develop solutions jointly, rather than advise union representatives of predetermined solutions to problems and then engage in bargaining over the impact and implementation of the predetermined solutions.”  Therefore, it is imperative that management immediately engage unions on an ongoing basis consistent with the spirit and intent of the Executive Order.

The term “without regard to whether those matters are negotiable subjects of bargaining” means there is almost no limit to what decisions and information union representatives—many of whom may not be federal employees—are both privy to and have the ability to influence.

The document goes on to state that the pre-decisional discussions should conducted in secrecy, out of sight from the prying eyes of say…the public (aka the taxpayers) and the union members themselves.

Pre-decisional discussions, by their nature, should be conducted confidentially among the parties to the discussions.  This confidentiality is an essential ingredient in building the environment of mutual trust and respect necessary for the honest exchange of views and collaboration.

Unions to have a say in determining agency budgets?

One example of an opportunity for pre-decisional involvement is the annual budget process. The Executive Order explicitly provides that nothing in the order affects the functions of the OMB Director related to budgetary proposals.  Additionally, there are restrictions on the release of the nature, amounts, and underlying budget materials prior to the budget being submitted to Congress. However, recognizing that this memorandum should not be construed to override any OMB or agency-specific policies on the budget process, employee representatives can still play a role in this process, when practicable.

During the budget development phase, before the President submits the Budget to Congress, management develops proposed funding levels and draft programmatic narratives to be included in the budget document. At this stage, management has the option to solicit input from employee representatives. If management chooses to solicit such input, it should be limited to high-level discussions of goals and strategies. Moreover, to the extent that anyone receives confidential predecisional, deliberative information during this budget-development period, such information remains subject to the long-standing OMB policies on preserving the confidentiality of the deliberations that lead to the President’s budget decisions.

Union input doesn’t end there either:

During the period when Congress is considering the President’s Budget proposal, pre-decisional involvement can take the form of employee representatives providing input to management on possible ways of implementing the President’s proposals. Additionally, when the agency’s appropriations have been enacted into law, employee representatives may provide input to management on the use of budgetary resources to carry out its mission.

Again, the union representatives may or may not be federal employees. However, since the process is being executed behind closed doors, we (the taxpayers) have no idea who is in attendance and whose interests are really being served.

As noted by John Gillen of FedSmith.com (who originally raised this issue):

The memo appears to set the stage for providing unions an advantaged position in matters not covered by law. I understand that the Federal labor law authorizes negotiation over personnel policies, practices and working conditions but the memo goes far beyond that to perhaps cross the line by giving advantage to a non-government entity.

What if, for example, the labor department is pre-decisionally involving its Federal union in how its private sector union rules will be applied as a “workplace matter.” Both the Federal union and many of the private sector unions are AFL-CIO affiliates. How can this not be a problem?

As an effort to enhance ‘cooperation’ within the government appears to be more about collusion, perhaps its time for some light to be shed on what exactly is going on behind closed doors.

OMB Pre Decisional Bargaining Memo 1-19-2011

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“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

X-posted.

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