I want to update you on some recent, important developments regarding term bargaining with HHS. NTEU opened the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in July 2015. While bargaining ground rules, HHS engaged in numerous stall tactics that we believe were in bad faith and cost the parties nearly two years. In 2016, we were finally able to get before an Obama-appointed neutral Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) member, who on December 31, 2016, imposed ground rules on the parties. Thereafter, and consistent with its years-long efforts to delay any bargaining over new contract terms, HHS disapproved the ground rules on January 31, 2017. NTEU immediately filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which is currently pending.
In 2017, President Trump fired the Obama-appointed FSIP members and replaced them with members who are, similar to this administration, very anti-union and very anti-employee. Knowing that any impasse would now go to the newly-appointed FSIP members, and in anticipation of the Executive Orders (EOs) that were issued the Friday before Memorial Day, HHS notified NTEU that it had “reconsidered” its prior declaration that the ground rules were illegal and was now “willing” to comply. HHS then demanded that the parties exchange proposals by June 11 and commence bargaining on June 25. Both of these dates were unilaterally selected and imposed by HHS without consulting with NTEU or even seeking to determine if our bargaining team members were available.
In response, on June 8, 2018, NTEU filed a national grievance/ULP charge against HHS for unilateral implementation of the ground rules and bad faith bargaining. FLRA case law states that once a collective bargaining agreement has been disapproved, there is no enforceable agreement, so HHS cannot now force NTEU to comply.
In order to not risk waiving our right to bargain over changes to the term agreement, NTEU submitted its proposals on June 11, 2018, under protest. HHS also submitted its proposals, which on their face reveal that they have been driven by the three recent EOs issued by the President. Here’s a summary of both parties’ proposals for your review.
In our proposals, NTEU is seeking to significantly expand the rights and benefits for employees. For example, NTEU proposed language to make it easier for employees to use their accrued annual and sick leave without having to wait for supervisory approval. We proposed higher awards amounts for performance and incentive awards. For employees with growing families, we proposed six weeks of paid parental leave and up to six months of total leave, as well as lactation support, childcare subsidies, and agency-provided daycare. We proposed to expand the student loan repayment program and ensure healthier, safer working conditions for employees. We also proposed an improved and transparent system for details and reassignments, and better language regarding merit promotions. To ensure that employees can enforce their rights, NTEU strengthened the grievance and arbitration Articles to protect employees from prohibited personnel practices, and to require the agency to pay arbitration costs when it loses.
In contrast, the agency’s proposals seek to strip employees of most of their existing rights and benefits and restrict their access to a union steward if they need assistance. For example, HHS has proposed to eliminate entire Articles of the contract benefiting employees such as AWS, Telework, Awards, and Transit Subsidies. It has also proposed to make it easier to terminate employees for performance-related actions and alleged misconduct. As if that isn’t enough, the agency seeks to bar nearly every type of grievance that an employee could file, to prevent them and NTEU from enforcing what rights they would have left.
The agency’s proposals reflect utter disrespect for its employees and NTEU. Given the President’s disdain for federal employees and unions, agencies like HHS are emboldened to use aggressive bargaining tactics to roll back long-standing employee and union rights that have been in our contracts for years. We anticipate that these negotiations will be extremely contentious, but will do everything we can to protect the employees we represent.
As a reminder, the bargaining power of our union is directly proportional to the number of dues-paying members we represent. The agency believes we only speak for those employees who are NTEU members only. This is why it is so critical that you join NTEU or, if you are already a member, that you ask your co-workers to join if they are not already members.
If you have any questions or comments on the above, please share them with your chapter president.