Collective Bargaining and the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute: Selected Legal Issues

Source: Jon O. Shimabukuro, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R44794, March 21, 2017

Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, commonly referred to as the “Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute” (FSLMRS), recognizes the right of most federal employees to engage in collective bargaining with respect to their conditions of employment. In 2016, 27.4% of all federal employees were members of a union. While the union membership rate for federal workers has declined slightly over the past ten years, it continues to exceed the union membership rate of 6.4% for private-sector employees.Under the FSLMRS, a labor organization becomes the exclusive representative of a collective bargaining unit following a secret ballot election in which a majority of the employees in the unit vote favorably for the union. Once selected, the union is responsible for representing the interests of all employees in the bargaining unit, even if an individual has chosen not to join the union. Unlike organized employees in the private sector, federal employees are prohibited from engaging in a strike. The FSLMRS does not permit the negotiation of matters that are specifically provided for by federal law, such as wages and retirement benefits. However, federal unions have bargained with management over a variety of other subjects, such as the availability of daycare facilities and the allocation of parking spaces. In addition, under the FSLMRS, unions may negotiate for the availability of “official time,” paid time off from assigned government duties to engage in activities related to labor-management relations. The ability to negotiate for official time has been of particular interest to Congress. Legislation that would require the reporting of official time and limit how such time is used has been introduced in the 115th Congress. This report provides background on the FSLMRS and discusses key rights afforded to federal employees and management under the statute. The report also examines the availability of official time, and reviews some of the significant official time cases decided by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), the federal agency that administers the FSLMRS.