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Federal Diary: Bargaining rights loom large

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

President Obama wants to issue an executive order creating panels that would foster greater collaboration between management and labor in federal agencies, but it's hard to craft a document that pleases both sides.

Union leaders, who had felt good about an early draft, aren't so happy with a revised proposal from the White House this month. But groups representing managers are glad that the October draft responds to their complaints that the earlier document would gum up and slow down federal operations.

The big issue is bargaining rights.

Under the August draft, the president would have directed department and agency heads to bargain with employees over a set of issues that, federal labor law says, may be negotiated at the discretion of the agency.

Union leaders liked that.

But between August and October, the pendulum swung toward the bosses. The revised version would establish "several pilot projects of specified duration in the Executive branch in which some Federal departments or agencies shall elect to bargain over some or all of the subjects."

Now the supervisors are satisfied.

"The bottom line is that the [October] draft that we've seen reaches a constructive compromise," said Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executive Association, which represents top-level civil servants.

The U.S. Code says, "at the election of the agency," managers may (but they don't have to) bargain with workers "on the numbers, types, and grades of employees or positions assigned to any organizational subdivision, work project, or tour of duty, or on the technology, methods, and means of performing work."

Union leaders want Obama to mandate a place on the bargaining table for those subjects.

"We're not happy with OMB's [Office of Management and Budget] proposal on this," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. He considers the later draft, which http://fedsmith.com first reported, a "non-starter in its current form," but he's continuing to talk with administration officials.

William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, doesn't like the current draft either, but he's not quite as critical. "The current version of the executive order is better than what we have today, which is no executive order," he said. "Having something is better than nothing."


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