Union attacks GAO report
A recent General Accounting Office report that criticizes federal labor-management relations is already being attacked by the largest union for federal workers.
GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, interviewed 30 agency, union and neutral experts on their views about how well the labor relations program is functioning.
The federal program differs from non-federal programs in three ways, according to the GAO. First, federal unions bargain on a limited number of issues -- bargaining over pay and other economic benefits is generally prohibited. Second, strikes and lockouts are prohibited and, third, federal employees cannot be forced to join or pay dues to the unions that represent them.
Still, nearly 1.3 million federal employees, or 60 percent of the non-postal federal work force, are represented by unions.
More than three-fourths of the experts GAO interviewed cited two major problems with the program: Federal collective bargaining has not accomplished the objectives of federal law, and some of the processes used to resolve disputes between management and employees are too lengthy and complex.
More than two-thirds of the experts suggested an "agency shop" approach in which employees would be required to pay fees to the unions that represent them even if they do not belong to the union.
On other issues, the experts disagreed on how the program was working and how it should be changed, according to the GAO report, which was released July 31.
The greatest differences involved the extent to which working conditions should be negotiated by unions and agency management. Over half the agency officials opposed any change, while all union officials and over 80 percent of neutrals supported increased bargaining rights.
On the other hand, agency officials and most neutrals believed unions file too many unfair labor practice charges over minor issues.
GAO concluded that "the problems in the federal labor-management relations program appear to be so widespread and systemic that piecemeal technical revisions would not be a workable solution."
Therefore, it did not make any specific suggestions for changes to the program. Instead, it recommended that Congress hold hearings on the state of the program and set up a panel of federal workers, management and national labor experts to develop a proposal for comprehensive reform.
John Sturdivant, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), AFL-CIO, sharply criticized the GAO for not coming up with any recommendations.
"We wholeheartedly agree with the findings outlined in the report, but its lack of specific recommendations does nothing to overhaul the program and foster a truly cooperative relationship between management and labor," Sturdivant said in a statement.
"AFGE stands ready to work on any panel to develop comprehensive reforms which will bring meaning to the federal collective-bargaining process, increase employee involvement and improve current dispute-resolution processes," he said.
Drug testing limited
Responding to an AFGE lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has severely limited the drug-testing program of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In a decision issued July 31, Judge William A. Ingram limited DVA's random drug-testing program, disallowing testing for such positions as safety and health specialists, engineers, operators and mechanics. He also limited reasonable-suspicion testing to employees who are subject to the agency's random testing.
Finally, Ingram invalidated DVA's post-accident testing program, saying the agency's criteria are overly broad and subjective.
"Randomly testing dedicated, hard-working Americans is not the solution to our country's drug problem," AFGE President Sturdivant said in response to the decision. "What is needed is additional funding for law enforcement and education, as well as rehabilitation programs."
A local chapter of AFGE went on strike yesterday in protest against what they called serious unfair labor practices committed by their contractor employer.
Local 2096 was protesting practices committed by Lee's Contracting Services Inc., which won a low bid to perform janitorial services at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va.
They said the firm is trying to set up sweatshop conditions by refusing to honor provisions for accrued annual and sick leave as well as others negotiated with the previous contractor.
The National Labor Relations Board has asked U.S. District Court in Richmond for injunctive relief to restore benefits under the original contract.
"This is an excellent example of worker exploitation, where the contractor -- unable to fulfill his commitment to do the job cheaper than the competition -- cut employees' hours, refused to honor their accrued annual and sick leave provisions and tampered with their negotiated health plan," said AFGE President Sturdivant.