GAO hires outside counsel in union case

The Government Accountability Office's top managers have hired a Washington law firm to help with legal proceedings related to employees’ efforts to form a union.

Venable will represent GAO management before the agency’s Personnel Appeals Board (PAB), which is responsible for working out the details of a union representation election with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

"We need this outside legal expertise because, while GAO has a number of excellent attorneys on its staff, they have limited directly relevant experience in labor relations," said Comptroller General David Walker, head of GAO, in a statement. He added that the agency plans to use in-house attorneys to the maximum extent possible in the case.

A recent meeting among representatives of GAO's management, PAB and the union was halted when GAO officials announced they needed the assistance of outside legal counsel before proceeding with election negotiations.

GAO officials did not say when they would be ready to resume the talks, but Walker said the managers want to move the process along as expeditiously as possible.

When they filed a petition May 8 seeking to represent GAO's analysts, union officials said they expected an election to take place in late spring or early summer. They now say an election might not happen until after Labor Day.

Julie Clark, the union’s general counsel, said PAB had originally planned to recommend a timetable for an election by June 8. "Instead, we haven't even completed the preliminary meetings, so we have found ourselves well behind schedule," she said. "Certainly, everything GAO management has done up to this point in response to the petition has delayed and continues to delay that process."

In addition, GAO officials plan to challenge the eligibility of about a third of the employees seeking a representation election, a move that will further slow the proceedings, Clark said.

GAO alleges that the 461 employees in question -- analysts in Band IIB of GAO's pay banding system -- are not eligible for union representation. In a statement, GAO said "some of those staff members should not be included in the bargaining unit sought by the union, given their status as supervisors or confidential employees."

Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the union, described the employees as "coordinators who lack any kind of hiring and firing authority."

In his statement, Walker said he continues to support "the right of our employees to organize in a manner consistent with current law. Both management and the union have rights and obligations that need to be respected."

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