Winning and Losing in Federal Sector Dispute Resolution

By Smith, Charles G. | Public Personnel Management, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Winning and Losing in Federal Sector Dispute Resolution


Smith, Charles G., Public Personnel Management


The Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) is responsible for resolving negotiation impasses between federal agencies and unions representing federal workers. This paper presents descriptive data on who wins and who loses with the Panel. It is divided into six parts. First, background information on dispute resolution machinery in the federal government is discussed. Next, the data and the method of data collection are identified. Third, the procedures used by the Panel to resolve disputes are outlined. Fourth, the issues in dispute and who wins or loses are examined. Fifth, the arguments used by labor and management to support their respective positions with the Panel are presented. Finally, the paper concludes with several observations concerning the significance of the findings.

Background

Until the late 1970s U.S. Civil Service Commission exercised broad authority over the federal workforce. The Commission was charged with the management of the nation's federal bureaucracy, including the establishment of many terms and conditions of employment and the exercise of broad judicial power over issues of discipline and discharge. The moderating influence of union representation and collective bargaining on this comprehensive management control and authority was late coming to the federal service. It began slowly with the issuing of Executive Order 10988 by President Kennedy in 1962. Collective bargaining rights were afforded federal sector unions, however, the negotiation process was severely restricted by a very narrow scope of bargaining, (wages and fringe benefits were, and remain today, excluded from bargaining) provisions which required all agreements be approved by agency heads and by provisions which guaranteed many management prerogatives.(1)

A major weakness of this order was the absence of any provision for resolving disputes arising between labor and management during the course of contract negotiations. Procedures could be used but they had to be mutually agreed to by the parties. The belief governing the Kennedy Order was that because of the lack of experience in labor relations on the part of both management and labor, binding procedures, normally identified with public sector impasse resolution, would result in the "chilling effect" associated with third party intervention. In addition, it was believed that because the federal bureaucracy was so large and diverse a number of different non binding procedures should be explored and tested. These procedures included mediation, fact-finding and referral to higher agency authority for decision. However, by the mid 1960s most observers realized that if the labor management relations program in the federal sector was to operate properly a more formal method for impasse resolution was necessary.(2)

Impasse resolution procedures took a dramatic turn in 1969 with the issuing of Executive Order 11491 by President Richard Nixon. In addition to an overall strengthening of the federal sector labor management relations program, Section 5 of the Order established the Federal Service Impasses Panel as the federal sector's alternative to the strike.(3) One major improvement over the Kennedy Order was that now either party could initiate impasse resolution procedures unilaterally without the consent of the other. However, binding procedures for contract dispute resolution were not yet in place.

The framers of E.O. 11491 envisioned that the Panel would be more concerned with the use of non binding procedures such as mediation and fact-finding. And in fact, from 1970 to 1973 the Panel had an impressive record of success via the use of non-binding procedures. During this period 96 disputes were submitted and the Panel resolved all of them without benefit of a binding procedure. However, in addition to the use of non-binding procedures Executive Order 11491 also stated that the Panel could "take whatever action it deemed necessary to bring the dispute to settlement. …

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