HHS prepares to issue new bargaining agreement over union objections

Hubert H. Humphrey Federal Building (GSA) 

Following months of contract talk breakdowns, public protests and grievances, the Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to finalize its collective bargaining agreement before week's end over objections from the federal union representing its employees.

The contract, strongly criticized by federal unions as an example of the Trump administration's "bad faith" collective bargaining, is expected to be issued May 2, according to the National Treasury Employees Union.

In April, the Federal Service Impasse Panel (FSIP), whose members are presidentially appointed, maintained much of the HHS's contract, deciding the agency could impose many of its proposed changes. As a result, HHS plans to move forward with the contract.

"As ordered by the [FSIP], HHS will begin implementation of its new contract with NTEU," an HHS spokesperson told FCW. "HHS will be providing internal guidance on the implementation as the implementation process moves along. It is HHS's expectation that the changes in the contract will increase the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the department."

In a statement, NTEU president Tony Reardon said the contract "shifts the labor-management balance strongly toward management, making it harder for employees to enforce their rights in the workplace."

Following HHS's decision to move ahead with the contract against union approval, NTEU plans to file a fifth national grievance over the bargaining.

"It doesn't have to be like this," said Reardon. "Secretary Alex Azar and his negotiating team intentionally sabotaged bargaining in order to get to the administration-friendly FSIP, and NTEU intends to fight the premature implementation of the FSIP's decision."

Among the core objections raised by union members are the department's push to include restrictive leave and telework policies.

In October, NTEU members took to HHS headquarters to picket the agency's negotiating tactics, which entailed just two days of collective bargaining before the agency declared an impasse. The HHS negotiation has been pointed to as emblematic of the Trump administration's moves to curtail federal workforce freedoms, and as an example of agencies' flouting the district court ruling against the trio of workforce-related executive orders.

However, the impasse panel did send six articles back for renegotiation, and NTEU is arguing it is "illegal" to move ahead with an incomplete contract.

Among the unresolved articles was the duration of the contract. FSIP ruled the department could move ahead with its telework changes.

In the event HHS managers "feel empowered to dramatically scale back telework and alternative work schedules or deny more leave requests," NTEU said it plans to pursue legal challenges to "each and every violation."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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