White House task force recommends agencies get better at informing employees about union rights

The White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment's report builds on goals from the President's Management Agenda to reinforce unions as a way to ...

A newly released list of 70 recommendations to empower federal unions, sent to the president today, runs the gamut on collective bargaining issues.

The White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment’s report builds on goals from the President’s Management Agenda to reinforce unions as a way to strengthen the federal workforce, marking a polar opposite approach from the previous administration.

Established under “Executive Order 14025: Worker Organizing and Empowerment,” on April 29, 2021, the task force said it could not unilaterally reverse national trends of declining union membership and rising income inequality. It argued that a decades-long drop in union membership coincided with a rising share of income going to the top 10% of earners. The Associated Press reported that Labor Department data from last month shows only 10.3% of workers belonged to a union in 2021 compared to 20.1% in 1983.

The task force said its charge was to “assess the available tools and determine how to employ them to remove barriers to worker organizing and collective bargaining.”

Until then, the task force, which is led by Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, divided the recommendations into three categories:

  • Position the federal government as a “model actor;”
  • Use federal authority to support worker empowerment by providing information, improving transparency, and making sure existing “pro-worker services” are delivered in a timely manner; and
  • Use longstanding authority to leverage federal purchasing and spending power to support workers who are organizing and pro-worker employers.

“We had the ability for people to come in and give testimony on what they want to see in strengthening workers’ rights,” Walsh said, as reported by the AP. “This is a very strong, worker-centered document.”

Labor and federal management relations have been under the microscope lately. The report comes not long after a federal appeals court struck down for the second time a Federal Labor Relations Authority decision that set a higher bar for when agencies needed to negotiate with their unions.

Some of the 70 recommendations include a set of strategies from the Office of Personnel Management to remove unnecessary barriers in federal workplaces that impede unions’ ability to organize federal workers and increase their membership. Similarly, the General Services Administration would eliminate barriers to union organizers talking with employees, including contractors, on federal property about potential benefits of organizing.

The departments of Labor, Defense, Health and Human Services, and the Office of Management and Budget, are also recommended to help ensure that federal contract dollars “are not spent on anti-union campaigns and that the anti-union campaign activities by federal contractors are publicly disclosed.”

The report recommended reinstating labor-management forums, and strongly encouraging agencies, to engage in pre-decisional involvement on workplace matters. These forums were abolished under former President Donald Trump’s EO 13812 in 2017. The forums were permitted voluntarily again by OPM last year while the Trump administration policy was reviewed.

Some recommendations for the Defense Department include reviewing the status codes of employees in positions who are eligible to be included in a certified bargaining unit, to see if any have
inadvertently been miscoded or excluded. In addition, DoD is advised to standardize the guidelines for unions to talk to federal contractors and gaining access to military installations.

It instructs the Department of Homeland Security to issue a determination expanding the scope of national-level bargaining for the Transportation Security Administration screening workforce. TSA and the Merit Systems Protection Board struck an agreement in September that allowed all full time and part time transportation security officers to appeal an adverse action to the MSPB, as long as the officers have made it through their probationary period. TSOs were excluded from the General Schedule pay scale and Title 5 personnel system when Congress first created TSA nearly 20 years ago. According to the task force, after the determination is issued, TSA and the American Federation of Government Employees will negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

Other data recommendations include that Labor and the Office of Management and Budget established an integrated approach to employer violations, possibly with support from the Technology Modernization Fund.

Biden’s President’s Management Agenda outlined in November paid more attention to union organizing as a way to strengthen the federal workforce than the previous administration.  As Terry Gerton, president and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin at the time, that goal was likely trying to address the extreme swing of the pendulum by the previous administration, and that the new agenda would settle in in the middle and managers should be permissive.

The pro-union approach of the report is especially evident in the recommendation to create a Bully Pulpit Resource Center under the Labor Department for workers, employers, the public, and other government agencies to get information on “the benefits of unionization and labor-management partnerships.” The task force even suggested one option could be public service announcements recorded by the president, vice president, Labor secretary and other high-ranking officials for labor agency websites.

These recommendations are also based on existing authorities of the Executive Branch. The task force said it will issue a supplemental report six months from now.

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