Federal Labor Management Relations

Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 established the current general labor-management relationship within the executive branch. Agencies subject to the statute include the cabinet-level agencies, the Executive Office of the President, independent agencies and two legislative agencies, the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office.

Exclusive Recognition

Employees may not select a union to join. They may join only the one with exclusive recognition over their positions; if there is no union with exclusive recognition rights, the employee may not join another union, even if the position is one that could be union-represented.

However, union membership is not mandatory even for employees in a bargaining unit and as a practical matter the large majority of union-represented employees are not dues-paying union members. Unions are required to represent the interests of all unit employees regardless of whether an individual is a dues-paying member. The Reform Act also prohibits coercing employees to join or not join or to otherwise assist or not assist a union.

Exclusive recognition gives unions the right to negotiate over conditions of employment in general, although not—with very few exceptions—directly over pay or benefits. Other areas such as internal security matters also are reserved as management rights and are not negotiable. Bargaining agreements must contain grievance procedures terminating in binding arbitration. Agencies must grant official time to exclusive representatives for negotiating collective bargaining agreements and certain representational purposes, but not for internal union business such as conducting elections.

Federal Labor Relations Authority

Labor relations matters in the executive branch generally are overseen by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which among other things officially certifies or decertifies bargaining units and investigates and prosecutes unfair labor practices, whether committed by management or by labor. Its final orders in unfair labor practice and negotiability decisions are subject to judicial review.

Labor-management relations in the U.S. Postal Service more closely track private sector policies—including the right to bargain over pay and benefits—and are overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. The large majority of postal workers are unionized and the large majority of those are dues-paying members. The largest postal unions include the American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

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