NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Management By Unions

February 17, 1999

In 1993, President Clinton signed an executive order creating "labor-management councils" which would turn government management over to its unions. Specifically, the councils were to "help involve employees and their unions as full partners." The order was the brainchild of Vice President Al Gore, as part of his "reinventing government" initiative.

For the first time, federal managing authority would be divided between executive branch and union officials. The councils -- including union representatives -- would have power to bargain with the unions themselves over management issues, like the number of people, the type of resources and the skills needed to perform federal responsibilities.

But observers report federal bureaucrats have revolted against the order and it lies in shreds. Most federal agencies ignored it and those which implemented it say it hasn't worked.

  • Foremost, there is the matter of an obvious conflict of interest -- with union representatives bargaining across the table with other union representatives.
  • Faced with the revolt, union bosses successfully pressured Gore to sign a memo pressuring agency heads to promise they will implement the order.
  • But at the last meeting of the President's Management Council, managers at the Defense, Justice and Treasury departments balked at the order.
  • In a little-noticed decision last summer, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled that failure to bargain upon the items in the Clinton order did not amount to an unfair labor practice -- thereby frustrating the unions' most direct route to enforcing it.

At the Social Security Administration, two-thirds of field managers interviewed by the General Accounting Office said day- to-day management is more difficult because of the Partnership Councils. What have the union partners been up to?

  • In one agency, a career executive in charge of 3,000 inspectors and clerks was blocked from moving from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 when the union filed an unfair labor practice charge.
  • The unions could have endangered the nation's air safety if they had succeeded in their quest to make the assignment of 300 new inspectors at the Federal Aviation Administration a bargainable issue.

Despite union activism, fewer than 30 percent of federal civilian employees are members of unions.

Source: Donald Devine, "Revolt in the Bureaucratic Ranks," and James Bovard, "'Partnership' Union Push," Washington Times, February 17, 1999.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues