Step 5: --Forming a Labor-Management Partnership

The federal workforce is changing. While the number of employees has remained constant for a decade, the workforce is much more diverse, with more minorities and women. It is better educated and more mobile. And more employees work in professional, scientific, and highly technical jobs than ever before.

Today, more than 125 federal unions represent about 60 percent of the federal workforce. That's 1.3 million civilian, non-postal employees, or 80 percent of the workforce eligible to participate in federal unions. The three largest federal employee unions are the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), and the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE).

Federal employees and their unions are as aware of the quality revolution as are federal managers. Consistent with the quality push, federal employees want to participate in decisions that affect their work. Indeed, GAO estimates that 13 percent of federal workers already are involved in formal quality management processes. See Note 56 At the IRS, for example, a Joint Quality Improvement Process with the NTEU has spread throughout the agency--saving money, producing better service, and improving labor-management relations.

Corporate executives from unionized firms declare this truth from experience: No move to reorganize for quality can succeed without the full and equal participation of workers and their unions. Indeed, a unionized workplace can provide a leg up because forums already exist for labor and management exchange. The primary barrier that unions and employers must surmount is the adversarial relationship that binds them to noncooperation. Based on mistrust, traditional union-employer relations are not well-suited to handle a culture change that asks workers and managers to think first about the customer and to work hand-in-hand to improve quality.

We want to be full partners. We want to work. We want government to work better. We want to be there in partnership to help identify the problems. We want to be there in partnership to help craft the solution. We want to be there in partnership to help implement together the solution that this government needs. And we're prepared to work in partnership to make some bold leaps to turn this government around and make it work the way it should work. John Sturdivant, President American Federation of Government Employees Reinventing Government Summit, Philadelphia June 25, 1993

The current context for federal labor-management relations, title VII of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, presents such a barrier. In 1991, the GAO concluded after an exhaustive survey of union leaders, government managers, federal employees and neutral experts, that the federal labor-management relations program embodied in title VII "is not working well." GAO characterized the existing bargaining processes as too adversarial, bogged down by litigation over minute details, plagued by slow and lengthy dispute resolution, and weakened by poor management. One expert interviewed by GAO summed up the prevailing view: "We have never had so many people and agencies spend so much time, blood, sweat, and tears on so little. In other words, I am saying I think it is an awful waste of time and money on very little results." Indeed, the cost of handling unfair labor practice disputes using this system runs into tens of millions of dollars every year. See Note 57

We can only transform government if we transform the adversarial relationship that dominates federal union-management interaction into a partnership for reinvention and change.

Action: The President should issue a directive that establishes labor-management partnership as an executive branch goal and establishes a National Partnership Council to help implement it.

See Note 58 The President's executive order will articulate a new vision of labor-management relations. It will outline the roles of managers and unions in creating a high-performance, high-quality government. It will call for systematic training in alternative dispute resolution and other joint problem-solving approaches for managers, supervisors and union officials. And it will call for agencies to form their own internal councils.

By October, 1993, the President should appoint the National Partnership Council and charge it with the task of championing these efforts and developing the next steps. The council will include appropriate federal cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, and agency directors; the presidents of AFGE, NTEU, and NFFE; and a representative of the Public Employee Department of the AFL-CIO. Federal agencies and unions will assign existing personnel to staff the council.

Action: The National Partnership Council will propose the statutory changes needed to make labor-management partnership a reality.

See Note 59 GAO cited the need for a new labor-management relations framework that "motivates labor and management to form productive relationships to improve the public service." See Note 60 The Federal Labor Relations Authority, The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and several agencies have been encouraging and facilitating new labor-management cooperation efforts. However, their efforts are being hampered by legal restrictions that focus on the traditional adversarial models. The council will recommend legislation to the President to create a better framework.