Looking for help now?
Contact your local Health Safety & Work Life Regional Practice or CG SUPRT 24/7/365.

Federal Labor Relations

Labor organizations (unions) and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest. Employees are free to organize and elect their union without any interference, coercion, threats, or retaliation from management.

  • Employees have the right to form, join, or assist any labor organization, or to refrain from any such activity, freely and without fear of penalty or reprisal, and each employee shall be protected in the exercise of such right. Such right includes the right:
    • To act for a labor organization in the capacity of a representative and the right, in that capacity to present the views of the union to heads of agencies and other officials of the executive branch of the Government, the Congress, or other appropriate authorities, and
    • To engage in collective bargaining with respect to conditions of employment through representatives chosen by employees.
  • While all bargaining unit employees are entitled to representation by their union, employees are not required to join the union. An employee “joins” the union by signing up on the appropriate form and paying dues to the union.
  • The union’s duty of fair representation means that the union must represent and assist each bargaining unit employee, without discrimination and regardless of whether he/she is a dues-paying member.
  • The following is a list of common Federal Labor Relations terms along with their definitions:
    • Activity: A subordinate unit of an Agency.
    • Agency: e.g., the U.S. Coast Guard
    • AFGE: American Federation of Government Employees – one of a number of labor organizations organized nationally to represent groups of employees locally – AFGE is the largest union representing primarily Federal employees.
    • Arbitration: A method of resolving grievances – if a grievance cannot be resolved between the parties, either party may decide to refer the matter to an arbitrator, who hears the matter and renders a binding decision (Note: an employee cannot independently take a matter to an arbitrator).
    • Bargaining Unit (BU): A group of non-supervisory employees usually sharing similar conditions of employment and working conditions and determined by the FLRA to have a clear and identifiable community of interest such that their exercise of rights will promote effective dealings with, and efficiency of the operations of, the agency involved. (Also called an Appropriate Unit).
    • CBA: Collective Bargaining Agreement – a document composed through the joint effort of union and management describing certain conditions of employment and working conditions observed by management, the union, and employees in the bargaining unit. Each agreement must, at a minimum, show the scope of its coverage and contains a grievance mechanism.
    • COE: Conditions of Employment – means personnel policies, practices, and matters, whether established by rule, regulation, or otherwise, affecting working conditions, except that such term does not include policies, practices, and matters
      • relating to political activities prohibited under civil service law,
      • relating to classification of any position, or
      • to the extent such matters are specifically provided for by Federal statute.
    • Exclusive Recognition: A status accorded by an Activity to the union duly approved by the FLRA as the exclusive representative (AFGE Local 3313) – the Activity may not deal with any other organization concerning its employees, over matters that are within the purview of the labor relations law.
    • Exclusive Representative: e.g. AFGE Local 3313 is the exclusive representative of all GS professional and non-professional employees at Coast Guard Headquarters.
    • FLRA: Federal Labor Relations Authority – independent agency of the government charged with responsibility for guidance and final decisions interpreting labor relations law, 5 USC Chapter 71.
    • FMCS: Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service – independent agency charged with helping both private companies, government agencies and unions reach agreement without resorting to lockout or strike, or in the case of Federal agencies, mandatory resolution by the FSIP.
    • FSIP: Federal Service Impasses Panel – independent part of the FLRA composed of a group of seven persons appointed by the President to hear and resolve negotiation impasses – the FSIP serves in lieu of strike or lockout – and has authority to issue findings with which activities/agencies must comply.
    • Judicial Review: Final actions of the FLRA may be reviewed by a court. Arbitration decisions may be subject to review – on very narrow grounds.
    • NGP: Negotiated Grievance Procedure – required in a CBA – local method to resolve work related problems raised by an employee within a bargaining unit. Local decisions are subject to binding arbitration.
    • Official Time: An employee representing Local 3313 may, under certain legal and/or negotiated provisions, use work time to carry out negotiation or representative duties without charge to leave – the time may not be used for internal union business such as solicitation of membership, elections of local officers, collection of dues.
    • OGC: Office of General Counsel – independent part of the FLRA. Acts as investigator and prosecutor when a violation of law (ULP) is alleged.
    • Regulations: The FLRA, the OGC, the FSIP, and the FMCS all have authority to issue regulations prescribing actions to carry out their respective responsibilities. FLRA regulations are found in 5 CFR 2400 series.
    • Subpoena: The FLRA, the OGC and the FSIP may issue subpoenas requiring attendance and testimony of witnesses and production of documentary or other evidence from any place in the United States (except that disclosure of intra-management advice and guidance or training is not so subject).
    • ULP: Unfair Labor Practice – violation of the labor law – may occur by action or inaction of management or union – FLRA has authority to correct and/or penalize for the infraction.