Biden addresses another union priority: Cleaning house at federal impasse panel

Federal employee unions crossed off another item on their wish list from the Biden administration this week.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday asked for the resignations of all 10 members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP). Eight members resigned, and the remaining two were removed, a Federal Labor Relations Authority spokesman said Wednesday.

It’s up to Biden now to name new panel members, which don’t require Senate confirmation.

Cleaning house at the impasse panel was a major priority for the two largest federal employee unions, and both said they welcomed the development.

“FSIP panel members are presidential appointees and the White House is well within its right to dismiss the previous administration’s appointees,” Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement. “The FSIP is supposed to be comprised of members who are qualified, experienced, fair and neutral. The Trump-appointed panel was none of those things, and its record of nearly always siding with agency management, notwithstanding the record before it, proved its bias.”

As expected, Biden has also reconfigured the leadership at the FLRA and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Ernest DuBester, an authority appointee since 2009, is the FLRA chairman. Biden also designated Charlotte Burrows, a commissioner since 2015, as the new EEOC chairman.

Both the FLRA and the EEOC retain their Republican majorities, at least for now.

And while federal unions are hopeful new leadership will bring about a quick change in tone and policy at the authority and impasse panel, it’s more complicated at other agencies, where undoing the 2018 executive orders isn’t as easy as flipping a switch.

Biden rescinded those EOs with one of his own two weeks ago, which called on agencies to repeal, revoke or revise any policies or practices that implemented the 2018 executive orders.

NTEU said it’s communicating with agencies about next steps it believes they should take to comply with Biden’s new executive order.

“In situations where negotiations on a new contract were underway, some agencies delayed bargaining until after the inauguration, and we take that as a sign that those agencies intend to comply with the new order and return to the table with reasonable proposals and a posture of bargaining in good faith,” Reardon said. “In other cases, we are asking agencies to take immediate steps to roll back any workplace policies that were implemented under the previous orders, such as improper restrictions on union operations.”

The American Federation of Government Employees said last week many of its bargaining units were in a holding pattern while their agencies awaited implementation guidance on the Biden EO.

The union said it’s especially tricky at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where the two parties have been locked in contentious negotiations for more than a year.

The impasse panel in November issued a decision on several dozen articles of the VA-AFGE contract. The union doesn’t accept the panel’s decision, in part, because it still has litigation pending over certain pieces of the contract and there are outstanding articles the parties haven’t finalized.

The department and the union are currently attempting to renegotiate an agreement on 18 articles with help from a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service commissioner.

Ibidun Roberts, the outside supervisory attorney for AFGE’s National VA Council, said the current negotiations have been difficult so far.

“We’re really not getting anywhere,” she said. “It’s just not moving at all. It seems they just want to bully and belittle the union, in the same manner that the Trump executive orders instructed the agencies to do. With President Biden rescinding those orders, unfortunately we’re not seeing a change in that behavior.”

The department didn’t directly respond to questions about its ongoing negotiations or whether it would revisit policies it had implemented in accordance with Trump’s 2018 executive orders.

“While the VA does not comment on collective bargaining discussions, we are committed to actively engaging with our labor partners to best serve veterans,” Randy Noller, a department spokesman, said in an email to Federal News Network.

Roberts said the union is hopeful VA will eventually get direction from its new secretary, whenever he’s confirmed, to rescind the notice the department issued more than a year ago to reopen the 2011 master agreement and negotiate a new contract.

That would, in essence, allow both parties to start over, Roberts said.

“That way the secretary can review the agreement himself with his own people and determine if he wants to reopen it,” she said. “If he… rescinded that notice, reviewed it himself and gave us a new notice and bargained in good faith, we’d be fine with that. We’re just looking for people to deal with us in good faith and not as though employees and the union are disposable.”

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously earlier this week to advance the nomination for Denis McDonough to be the next VA secretary. It’s unclear when exactly the Senate will confirm him.

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