Washington D.C. – The administration’s scheme to eviscerate the rights of federal employees took another alarming step with a decision that puts Health and Human Services employees at a significant disadvantage in forthcoming contract negotiations.
The Federal Service Impasses Panel, over the objection of the National Treasury Employees Union, has now asserted jurisdiction over most of the contract provisions that HHS and NTEU were supposed to be negotiating this summer before HHS abandoned talks.
According to the FSIP decision released late last week, all but six of the 34 opened articles of the existing contract will be subject to an unnecessarily shortened bargaining period. The order increases the chances that negotiations will fail and a grossly unfair contract be imposed on frontline employees without their input.
“The FSIP clearly put its finger on the scale and is giving HHS management an unfair advantage in these unduly abbreviated negotiations,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said. “HHS broke the law by refusing to negotiate in good faith with its own employees, and now the agency – with a decision from the administration’s political appointees – has the opportunity to make things dramatically worse.”
Earlier this year, HHS negotiators made proposals that eliminated one-third of the contract, refused to bargain, and then walked away from negotiations. HHS’ tactics are exactly the opposite of what Congress intended when it said collective bargaining in the federal sector is in the public interest, and NTEU has filed three separate national grievances over the egregious process.
The FSIP ordered new talks over 30 days with the assistance of a mediator, but the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has further limited the process to two weeks due to the unavailability of mediators. NTEU is prepared to be at the bargaining table every possible day, including those outside of the mediator’s two-week availability.
“If HHS once again engages in bad faith bargaining during these two weeks, we will immediately file another national grievance to challenge its actions,” Reardon said. “And if FSIP then orders a new collective bargaining agreement on our members we will seek to have it rescinded by an arbitrator.”
HHS employees are outraged that their employer is trying to eliminate their ability to bargain over important workplace benefits like telework, alternative work schedules and transit subsidies. More than 6,000 of them have signed a petition urging HHS Secretary Alex Azar to restore good faith bargaining, and multiple members of Congress have taken their side.
The six contract provisions that the Impasses Panel did not assert jurisdiction over are related to the duration of the contract, mid-term bargaining, dues withholding, hours of work, grievances and arbitration. NTEU believes these six provisions from the previous contract remain in effect.
NTEU represents about 14,000 HHS employees around the country, including at the Food and Drug Administration, the Administration for Children and Families, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Center for Health Statistics, and other important programs and offices.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.