New bill could undo some federal union representation practices

This story was updated Feb. 4 to include statements from Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). 

Federal union members could see some big changes to their labor representation practices if a new bill from House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) passes.

The Federal Employee Rights Act, a draft of which Federal News Radio obtained, would undo several longstanding provisions in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, which Congress passed in conjunction with the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978.

Price introduced the bill Feb. 4.

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Specifically, the bill would prohibit agencies from deducting labor union dues from federal employees’ paychecks. It would also change the way votes are counted among employees in a unit who are holding an election to consider union representation.

The legislation requires that agencies use a secret paper ballot election to decide whether to accept union representation.

It also requires that more than 50 percent of employees within a particular unit indicate that they want an election to consider possible union representation. Current law requires a petition from 30 percent of employees.

When the vote occurs, the tally would only consider employees who submitted a ballot in the election. Employees who do not cast a ballot would be counted as voting “no” to union representation.

Some federal labor organizations say the bill would make it more difficult for employees to join or continue union representation.

The American Federation of Government Employees said the bill is an attempt to address problems that do not exist within federal labor unions.

Currently, each federal employee who decides to join a union must fill out and submit a membership form. No one is automatically added as a member or forced to pay dues, AFGE said.

“There [are] no involuntary fees paid by employees to unions in the federal government,” said Cathy McQuiston, deputy general counsel for AFGE. “That’s just not the law. A lot of these things are addressing situations that may exist in the private sector, but they’re just not a reality in the federal sector. This bill is just mean-spirited, another attack on federal employees, trying to make it difficult for them to organize.”

Without dues deduction, federal unions would have to hand-collect their fees from individual members, a practice that was lifted under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute.

The National Treasury Employees Union said the bill ignores the other allotments that agencies already deduct from employees’ paychecks, such as charity donations and college savings.

“Preventing union dues from being deducted would save zero money and has only one purpose — to reduce union membership,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said in a statement.

The bill’s suggested voting procedures also make little sense, both AFGE and NTEU argue.

“It is the height of irony for a member of Congress to change the standard for union recognition from 50 percent of ‘those who cast ballots’ to 50 percent of all eligible voters in a bargaining unit,” Reardon said. “Congressional elections are often decided with anemic numbers of eligible voters participating.”

McQuiston said AFGE will write to members of Congress and encourage them not to co-sponsor the bill.

“It’s completely out of line from how elections in the country are conducted and how votes are counted,” she said. “It’s a ploy to make it much more difficult to vote for union representation.”

Price introduced the Employee Rights Act last July, which included some of the same provisions that are in the Federal Employees Rights Act. The bill was referred to the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions in November.

“It has been decades since Congress properly reexamined federal labor law,” Price said in a statement. “The workplace rights of federal employees ought to be protected just as we are fighting to protect the rights of private sector workers – particularly when it comes to how their hard earned dollars are used by union leadership. The Federal Employee Rights Act would offer basic paycheck, workplace, and ballot protections, putting the interest of federal employees first.”

But some members of Congress took to Twitter to express their disapproval.

Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) took to Twitter to express their disapproval of the bill. (Rep. Chris Van Hollen)
Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) took to Twitter to express their disapproval of the bill. (Rep. Chris Van Hollen)

“This legislation’s purpose is simple: to weaken the ability of our federal employees to exercise their right to join a union,” Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a statement to Federal News Radio.