Dealing With… Proposed Changes to Working Conditions

Note, this is our second article in a series of articles titled “Dealing With….”.  This special series is designed to provide simple practical advice of immediate usefulness to federal employees (and even local and state employee to a certain degree) dealing with certain situations specifically indicated in the article.   We are beginning this series addressing more common situations.

Proposed Workplace Changes

5 USC 7103 (a)(14) describes conditions of employment as “personnel policies, practices, and matters, whether established by rule, regulation, or otherwise, affecting working conditions.” This is a broad20130225-Informed-Fed-Logo-com definition and includes wide ranging specifics such as hours of duty, environmental aspects of employment, access to leave schedules, leave requesting procedures, physical layout of offices, seniority, disciplinary and adverse action procedures, and an endless list of other topics far too numerous to mention in a  single article that would be worth reading. There are also a host of other topics excluded from the term working conditions; including, internal security practices, position classification, method means and technology of performing work, and assignment of work to name just a few.  However, this article is only concerned with those topics not excluded from collective bargaining (union influence).

How an affected employee responds to changes in the workplace of course first depends whether the issue in contention (i.e. hours of duty) falls within the scope of collective bargaining.  Beyond that, how, and if, the affected employee responds depends on a number of factors including,

  • Whether the employee is in the bargaining unit or not
  • Whether the bargaining unit is represented by a local union
  • Whether the local union “exists” in the workplace (many workplaces are represented by a labor organization on paper, but the labor organization does not maintain a practical (or even physical) presence in the affected workplace)
  • Whether the labor union is interested in the matter
  • And finally, the technical capabilities of the union officials

Next Steps

If you are a non-bargaining unit employee (cannot join a union or are otherwise excluded from such association under 5 USC 7112(b) ), you are largely out of luck if management wants to change your working conditions unless the change is discriminatory or can be grieved through the agency administrative grievance procedure.  Conversely, unlike those employees represented by a union who cannot talk directly with management concerning the change, non-bargaining unit employees can talk directly with management concerning the change. Therefore, significant influence can be generated if conditions are right, and much quicker than if a union was involved.

When faced with changes to working conditions, non-bargaining unit employees should:

  • Talk with agency managers about the change
  • Assess how adverse any impact may be
  • Assess whether the change is discriminatory
  • Determine if any agency administrative grievance procedure is applicable
  • Determine if/how you want to proceed in challenging the change

Bargaining unit employees on the other hand are bound, for better or worse, to terms and procedures under the Master Agreement and applicable law concerning changes in working conditions.  It is important to note bargaining unit inclusion is without regard to whether the affected employee pays dues to the union. In other words, even if the employee does not pay dues, the union is still obligated to fairly represent the employee. If the concerned local union is active in the workplace, the union will [in theory] function as the exclusive representative in dealing with the changes in working conditions and likely received advanced notice of a proposed change from the agency.  Therefore, you, as an affected employee, are unable to talk with management directly concerning the proposed or imminent change.  Management is not obligated to talk with affected employees concerning the change.  In fact, most Employee Labor Relations Specialists sternly advise agency managers to not talk directly with employees to avoid union claims of a “union bypass.”

When faced with changes to working conditions, bargaining unit employees should:

  • Contact the local union representative
  • Determine whether the union was notified
  • Provide the union sufficient factual information regarding the proposed change
  • Meet with the union
  • Remember, the union is controlling, for better or worse

Summation

Changes to working conditions within the scope of collective bargaining are at the very core of workplace issues.  The union’s effectiveness in dealing with such changes are often a true test as to the validity of the local labor organization as responding to such changes involves organizational efficiency, negotiation skills, interpersonal skills, writing, and speaking.  It’s also a key opportunity for the local labor organization to demonstrate to its members union membership is worthwhile.

 

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