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How Trump Weakened the FLRA

Federal Labor Relations decisions remove unions from bargaining process

Brian Young's picture
Oct 05, 2020

In a trio of decisions, Trump’s Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) has overturned decades of precedent. In the decisions, the FLRA has decided to severely limit the bargaining capability of federal unions.

The first decision changed the standard for when an agency has a duty to bargain over a new agency policy. For decades the standard has been when the policy is greater than de minimis, meaning greater than a trivial matter. After the FLRA ruling though that standard is changed to substantial, meaning that agencies will be able to unilaterally impose many new policies without the workers getting a say.

A second decision found that federal labor law “neither requires nor prohibits midterm bargaining.” This makes “zipper clauses,” which limit the government's ability to reopen a contract during the term of the deal, mandatory subjects of bargaining.

The final decision states that when an expiring union contract is renewed indefinitely, giving the two sides time to negotiate a new contract, that renewal should be treated as a new agreement. This means that the renewal, which is just an agreement to continue the current contract, is subject to agency head review and implementation of new government-wide rules and regulations.

All three decisions were decided by a 2-1 vote and were heard at the request of the Trump Administration.AFGE, which represents federal workers at the three agencies involved, said the decisions will make it more difficult to bargain.

“President Trump has packed the FLRA with union-busting appointees who continue to chip away at workers’ rights on the job,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “These sham decisions further his agenda of eroding the rights of unionized workers to the point of nonexistence and underscore the need for change in November. We will be pursuing all legal options to challenge these decisions. But make no mistake, these are just the most recent in a four-year string of meritless decisions that must be overturned by a new administration and a new FLRA, properly constituted, to restore fairness and decency to the federal government,” Kelley said.

The one Democrat on the FLRA Ernest DuBester was the dissenting vote on all of the cases. “I can only conclude that the majority’s decision is driven solely by its disdain for the role of collective bargaining under our Statute and its relentless effort to marginalize the role of unions in the federal sector,” DuBester wrote.

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