Federal labor unions say some agencies still omit them from critical dialogues, despite efforts by the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, a group of agency and union leaders appointed by President Barack Obama to improve relations between agency management and unionized employees. Many said they had been punished by supervisors for speaking out.
“The President would be disappointed,” Michael Filler, director of the Teamsters Public Services Division, told other council members at a meeting Wednesday.
The council has encouraged agencies to meet regularly with their unions about staffing, operations and other issues that arise outside of a formal collective-bargaining process. It also has developed tools to guide management in what the council calls “predecisional involvement.”
“I don’t think just because we developed the products, we solved the problem,” Filler said. “There are intransigent parties on both sides.”
Conventional wisdom has it that “management acts and unions get to react,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. The intent of predecisional involvement, in which unions might get advanced notice of changes that will impact the workforce, is “to give the union a more level playing field,” he said.
It’s a message the Obama Administration supports. Labor unions have been key allies of President Obama.
Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Beth Cobert, who co-chairs the council, suggested OMB could reinforce the message that the president wanted agencies to work more closely with their unions. But she acknowledged that a memo would not be enough.
“We have to find some way to move from memo to action,” she said. “Our best hope is that more folks understand the positive benefits from this.”
Evaluating senior executives, in part, on whether they include unions in predecisional talks might get their attention, Filler suggested.
The Office of Personnel Management is redesigning the training and tools it offers managers and supervisors, said Director Katherine Archuleta.
“I’m very open to thinking with you and sitting down with others,” she told Filler.
New Veterans Affairs leaders improving dialogue with AFGE
Veterans Affairs officials and labor leaders said they’re working hard to mend relations at the Veterans Affairs Department following healthcare scandals that led to the resignation of former Secretary Eric Shinseki. Doctors and nurses on the frontlines were the ones who revealed the scheduling delays and other management problems.
The new secretary, Bob McDonald, has proposed raising the salaries of VA physicians and dentists. AFGE, which represents close to 250,000 VA employees, said it would be the first pay raise since 2009 for those employees.
McDonald plans to meet with the union next week, Cox said.
Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, who served as the interim head of the department after Shinseki left, said he’s talked with Cox about ways rank-and- file employees could play a greater role in the agency’s reforms.
“No one knows better the opportunities for improvement,” Gibson said of VA employees. “We’re doing everything we know how to do to create the environment [in which] people raise their hands and improve how we operate.”
A new law authorizes VA to hire more doctors and nurses. It is also extending opening times at health care centers to meet patients’ needs. AFGE members can play a role in both processes, Cox said, suggesting union members can publicize jobs and help in recruitment.