OPM outlines more steps for agencies to highlight collective bargaining rights for feds

The Biden administration is continuing its push to highlight the collective bargaining rights of federal employees.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a second round of guidance to agencies on Tuesday, outlining several ways agencies should make employees more aware of their collective bargaining rights.

OPM’s guidance also directs agencies to quickly process requests to pay union dues through payroll deductions, and train managers and supervisors on how to remain neutral during union organizing campaigns.

OPM Director Kiran Ahuja, in a blog post, said the guidance is part of the administration’s focus on making the federal government a model employer in a competitive labor market.

“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring every federal job is a good job, and respecting collective bargaining rights is one way we’re doing exactly that,” Ahuja wrote.

OPM issued its first round of guidance last October, as part of a White House event with Vice President Kamala Harris.

Both rounds of OPM guidance stem from an executive order President Joe Biden signed in April 2021, which created a new White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment.

American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley said the administration’s latest guidance will “further the federal government’s goal of being a model employer.”

“By simply declaring that it will remain neutral on union organizing campaigns, will inform employees of their rights, and will process payroll dues deduction requests by employees in a timely manner, the White House is sending a powerful message to employers everywhere that efforts to interfere with union elections and workers’ union rights should not be tolerated,” Kelley said.

National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said the union supports the new guidance, which implements some of the recommendations from the administration’s task force.

“We believe these are basic processes that respect the rights of federal unions and allow employees who wish to join their unions to do so simply and efficiently. This guidance understands that strong unions improve the workplace by providing employees with the opportunity to join with their coworkers and share their collective ideas for improving their federal agencies,” Reardon said.

OPM’s guidance is meant to remove barriers for federal employees to organize, as well as chart a new course from the Trump administration’s policies on collective bargaining within the federal government.

Federal unions spent much of the Trump administration fighting three executive orders that, combined with other administration actions, challenged their ability to represent their bargaining unit members.

Those executive orders cut official time, limited collective bargaining and removed labor organizations from government office space.

Biden rescinded the orders within his first few days in office.

National Federation of Federal Employees President Randy Erwin said many of the strategies in OPM’s memos stem from NFFE’s recommendations to the agency.

“Each of these memos instruct federal agencies to take action that further empowers government employees,” Erwin said. “These strategies allow unions like NFFE to better communicate with our members and encourage employees to organize without interference from their bosses.”

More than half of non-postal federal civilian employees are represented by about 2,000 bargaining units, but only a third of them are dues-paying members.

Employees aren’t required to be dues-paying members, but federal unions are required to represent every person in the bargaining unit.

Ahuja said this puts a strain on federal unions, which represent all bargaining unit members, regardless of whether they pay dues.

“By removing barriers that impede unions’ ability to organize, represent bargaining unit employees, and inform civil servants about their collective bargaining rights, the federal government is serving as a model employer for others to see how strong labor rights and a productive workforce go hand-in-hand,” Ahuja wrote.

Union communications with federal employees

One of OPM’s memos directs agencies to allow unions to put materials on office bulletin boards, as well as the agency’s public-facing websites or employees-only intranets.

Those materials include information about the union, as well as contact information for union representatives.

It also directs agencies to revise policies that may restrict union representatives or bargaining unit employees from trying to recruit members or distribute union materials during non-duty official time.

OPM also directs agencies to provide union officials with a regularly updated list of bargaining unit employees, along with their work email addresses.

Agencies must also allow local union officials to communicate with bargaining unit employees through their work email addresses during non-duty hours.

OPM also directs agencies to give unions an opportunity to take part in the orientation process for bargaining unit employees, if they haven’t already done so.

Agencies must also give unions an opportunity to participate in employee town hall events, in which unions can remind bargaining unit employees about their workplace rights, as well as provide information on how to contact the union.

Payroll deductions for union dues

A second memo directs agencies to process payroll deductions for labor organizations “as quickly and accurately as possible.” OPM also directs agencies to make it easy for employees to access the forms needed to request or cancel payroll deductions for union dues.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority directs agencies to process payroll deductions for union dues “expeditiously,” but doesn’t provide a specific timeframe.

Neutrality from managers on collective bargaining

A third memo directs agencies to train their managers and supervisors on maintaining neutrality during union organizing campaigns.

The FLRA has determined that managers and supervisors should make any statement about any union organizing campaign, except for a narrow set of exceptions.

Those exceptions include informing employees of their collective bargaining rights or publicizing a union election and encouraging employees to vote.

“Federal labor law recognizes that statements to employees by supervisors, managers and other officials of the agency that employs them may carry disproportionate weight and have the potential for interfering with the free choice of employee voters,” OPM wrote in the memo.

OPM strongly encourages agency supervisors and managers to consult with the agency labor relations staff or legal counsel before responding to questions from employees related to union elections.

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