Senate Dems say federal agencies are bargaining in bad faith

Union talks are grinding to a halt across multiple agencies, and a group of Senate Democrats wants to know if it's because negotiators are taking their cues from invalidated executive orders.

HHS employees and NTEU union members picket outside agency headquarters - FCW photo
 

HHS employees and NTEU union members picket outside agency headquarters on Oct. 24. (FCW photo)

Union negotiations are grinding to a halt across multiple agencies, and a group of Senate Democrats wants to know if it's because negotiators are taking their cues from invalidated executive orders.

In a Nov. 1 letter signed by 16 senators, including Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Maryland Democrats Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, the lawmakers expressed "serious concern" that federal agencies are ignoring court rulings that invalidated key pieces of three workforce-related executive orders. The letter was initiated by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

"Despite this order, agencies have been slow in rolling back their implementation efforts and have continued to stonewall during collective bargaining negotiations in order to achieve the effects of the invalidated provisions," the lawmakers wrote.

The senators want answers from Margaret Weichert, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, about reports that agencies including the Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are looking to "advance provisions in the invalidated portions" of the executive orders, including limits on the amount of time federal employees can devote to union activities while on the job -- so-called official time.

On Aug. 29, a little more than a month before his ouster as OPM director, Jeff Pon sent a memo to agencies announcing that the government would "fully comply" with the Aug. 25 district court decision invalidating aspects of the three executive orders. On Oct. 5, Pon resigned suddenly and was replaced on an acting basis by Weichert, the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

The lawmakers told Weichert that despite the Aug. 29 memo, "it has become clear that agencies have failed to adhere to your office's guidance, and continued with the implementation of the invalidated EOs by either resuming their previous efforts or by engaging in bad-faith negotiating tactics during collective bargaining negotiations."

The lawmakers posed five questions to Weichert seeking detailed information on OPM's actions to ensure compliance with the district court order, with answers due by Nov. 16.

NEXT STORY: Can OPM retain its independence?

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