The FLRA and its Employees - "FLRA 20 Years 1979 - 1999"

 

 

"For two decades, the men and women of the FLRA have worked with skill and dedication to ensure fairness in labor practices at federal departments and agencies." President William Jefferson Clinton (April 29, 1999)

 

Organizational Structure and Operations

 

      The FLRA is a small, but complex organization due to its structure -- essentially, it is three independent agencies in one: the Authority, the Office of the General Counsel and the Panel. The FLRA Chair serves as both Chair of the Authority and the agency's Chief Executive and Administrative Officer. However, separate lines of authority within each component established by the Statute ensure independence between the various functions performed by each, primarily the roles of prosecutor and adjudicator. The General Counsel directs all Office of the General Counsel employees, who comprise over 50 percent of the FLRA staff, including the regional offices. The Chair of the Federal Service Impasses Panel directs the Panel staff.

 

      Since 1979, 12 men and women have served as Members of the Authority -- the adjudicators who have issued final decisions in cases litigated before the agency. Six of these individuals have led the FLRA as its Chair. During these 20 years, there have been seven General Counsels. Since it was established in 1970, a total of 30 men and women have served as Members of the Panel; six of them have served as the Panel's Chair. As this publication illustrates, under this leadership the FLRA has undergone a number of changes both to the program and to the organizational structure of the agency. What has remained constant is the commitment of FLRA's Presidentially-appointed leadership and career staff to resolving disputes and improving relationships within the Federal labor-management community.

 

      The Authority was originally organized around a central staff, which supported the decisional work of the Authority Members. In 1980, the Members appointed a Chief Counsel, who coordinated six teams of subject matter specialists and supervisors. After an extensive internal study, the Authority restructured its staff in 1986 into separate staffs for each Member, each headed by a Chief Counsel. In response to reduced case filings in recent years, however, staff reductions and reorganizations have re-introduced some centralized case processing in specific areas.

 

      The Administrative Law Judge function was transferred from the Department of Labor in 1979 to hear and render decisions in cases involving unfair labor practices. While the number of judges has been reduced over the years, consistent with a declining caseload, the structure of the Authority's Office of Administrative Law Judges remained unchanged until 1995, when a settlement attorney position was established under the settlement judge program. This program is designed to encourage and assist parties to resolve cases in a collaborative fashion, without a hearing and Judge's decision.

 

      Initially, the regional office personnel occupied nine regional offices and a number of resident offices that had been used by the Department of Labor under the Executive Order program. These locations were chosen based on the pattern of case filings under the prior program. Experience under the Statute, as well as eventual budgetary constraints, resulted in changes over the years. By 1996, two of the original regional offices -- New York and Los Angeles -- had been closed, as well as all of the resident offices. Currently, there are seven regional offices and two "remote duty" stations, one of which operates from a telecommuting center. In order to ensure cost-effective case processing and meet a strategic objective of case and staffing parity among the regional offices, the geographic jurisdiction of several regional offices has changed over the years. Also, the organizational structure has been changed to include senior level employees serving as functional experts in litigation, representation and dispute resolution.

 

      Although the Panel has changed its methods of resolving disputes by operating in a less formal fashion and introducing more flexible, case-oriented processes, the size and structure of the Panel staff has changed very little over the years.

 

      The agency central management offices have always been housed within the Authority component in support of the chief executive and administrative officer responsibilities of the FLRA Chair. These programs include the Office of the Solicitor, which represents the Authority in court proceedings and provides in-house counsel and legal advice to all components; the Inspector General activities; External and Congressional Affairs activities; and the Office of the Executive Director functions such as human resources, information technology, budget and procurement. In addition, the Office of the Executive Director manages agency-wide initiatives such as strategic planning, internal labor-management activities and performance management.

 

      Over the years, there has been a commitment to providing quality administrative services, such as personnel, procurement and automation support, to agency program personnel in the most efficient and economical manner. This has led to reducing administrative and overhead costs, contracting with other government agencies for personnel and payroll processing functions, reinventing work processes and investing in automation.

 

FLRA Staff

 

      Given the FLRA's statutory roles as investigator, prosecutor, adjudicator, impasse resolver and policy maker, its employees have always been its most important resource. Over the past 20 years, FLRA employees have investigated cases, held elections and conducted hearings throughout the world. They have persevered through a long period when the Authority had no quorum and others when, because no General Counsel had been appointed, that office had no authority to issue complaints. Employees have been relocated and offices have been eliminated or restructured. Yet, a skilled and loyal work force has remained and flourished as the FLRA has evolved to carry out its leadership role in the Federal labor-management relations community.

 

      In January 1979, approximately 100 employees -- labor relations specialists, attorneys, administrative law judges, and support staff -- transferred to the new agency from the now-defunct Federal Labor Relations Council and from the program that had been administered by the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Labor-Management Relations. In addition, the Panel Members and staff transferred virtually intact to the new entity. The unification and transfer initially took place on paper, as the Washington, D.C. employees remained scattered in three locations. In October 1981, the first unified FLRA headquarters was established at 500 C Street, S.W. Since 1993, the FLRA headquarters has been located at 607 14th Street, N.W.

 

      FLRA Employees
During the first year, some 100 additional employees were hired, many of whom were attorneys who would handle the added litigation functions. By fiscal year 1981, the FLRA had a staffing level of 336. It was never to be that large again. One year later, the FLRA suffered a 16 percent budget reduction and instituted a major reduction-in-force to meet those financial constraints. By the end of fiscal year 1983, the number of employees had dropped to 278. Staffing levels steadily declined after that year. At the end of fiscal year 1998, there were 216 employees in the entire FLRA, only a few more than worked in the Office of the General Counsel alone in 1981. Although the FLRA's caseload has also declined in recent years, the number of cases per employee today has increased by nearly 60% since 1980.

 

      After 20 years, the demographics of the FLRA staff are similar to the rest of the Federal government. Staff consists of a mix of new and experienced employees -- including 37 of the original individuals who transferred to the new agency in January 1979. In recent years, the agency has experienced turnover in both the headquarters and regional offices and has hired many new employees including recent law school graduates. It is this mix of experience and new ideas that continues to be the source of the FLRA's strength.

 

Some disparate memories from two decades:
  • Deployment of staff in 1981 to conduct an election among approximately 8500 employees of the Panama Canal Commission;
     
  • "Name and home address" cases that inundated Regional Offices, ALJs and Authority staffs in the mid-1980's until the issue was finally resolved by the Supreme Court;
     
  • File cabinets full of partially prepared decisions awaiting the two Authority Members confirmed by the Senate in late 1989 after more than a year without a quorum;
     
  • The move of the FLRA headquarters offices to 607 14th Street in March 1993 during what was then deemed "the snowstorm of the century;" and
     
  • Eight months of Panel work in 1997 on a 116-page decision on 56 issues arising from a RIF that was rescinded shortly after the decision issued within one month after the close of the arbitration hearing.

 

Employee Programs

 

      Understanding that leadership in Federal labor-management relations had to start in its own workplace, the FLRA from the beginning explored ways to improve relationships with its own employees. In 1980, after obtaining an opinion from the Department of Justice that it would be lawful to do so, the Agency recognized the Union of Authority Employees (UAE) -- an independent, non-affiliated organization -- as the bargaining representative of its employees. Although the FLRA is excluded from coverage under the Statute, it has voluntarily negotiated contracts and agreements with the UAE and has agreed to arbitration over a number of matters. Since 1995, the FLRA and UAE have worked together on the FLRA Partnership Council, which has made important contributions to the FLRA through initiatives that established such employee programs as alternative work schedules, new performance management and awards systems, and the establishment of core competencies. In addition, the FLRA and UAE have worked together in a collaborative manner to address a number of matters related to the