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Workforce

FLRA defends union fee rule

The agency that governs labor-management relations for the federal government is defending a controversial rule it made last year that made it easier for federal union members to revoke their commitment to pay dues.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority's ruling garnered critiques from Democrats and federal employee unions at the time, and the National Treasury Employees Union is challenging the decision in the D.C. District Court of Appeals.

Since then, President Joe Biden moved the lone dissenter in the agency's February 2020 decision – Democrat-appointee Ernest DuBester – to the role of chairman. But the agency is still defending the case based on a briefing submitted late last week for the NTEU lawsuit.

The brief defends the rule on the grounds that it is "the product of the Authority's measured and well-reasoned application of its statutory expertise," according to the agency's Feb. 5 brief.

Last summer, the agency finalized the rule, which gives union members who join a public union after the decision the capacity to withdrawal their voluntary membership at any time after their first year in the union.

The previous policy, dating back to 1981, had been that employees' dues allotments could only be cancelled during an annual, specific time window.

The Office of Personnel Management asked the agency for direction on withholding practices for federal employee union members after the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. That decision eliminated the ability of public sector unions to charge non-members in unionized workplaces, essentially obligating them to represent non-members for free during contract negotiations.

DuBester dissented from the FLRA's February 2020 decision.

"The majority's true objective is unmistakable. By undermining the ability of unions to carry out their obligations under the Statute, the majority's decision further weakens the institution of collective-bargaining in the federal sector," DuBester wrote at the time.

However, the FLRA brief submitted for the case last week argues that the court should defer to the FLRA's policy statement and final rule and deny NTEU's petition. It argues that the policy statement and final rule were within the FLRA's power to interpret statute.

"The Authority carefully considered those [public] comments in providing a well-reasoned policy statement and a thoroughly-explained final rule that correctly interpreted the statute and appropriately balanced the interests of federal employees, unions and agencies with respect to dues revocation," the brief says. "The court should therefore deny the petitions."

The decision runs against labor-management relations law, NTEU's national president Tony Reardon said in a statement to FCW.

"Since the FLRA ruling one year ago, the leadership at OPM and the chairmanship of the FLRA has changed. We believe that the appellate court should reverse the FLRA decision, or this is a topic that the Authority should have an opportunity to revisit," he said.

The FLRA did not respond to a request for comment.

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