SUMMARY: Collective bargaining is the preferred method for involving employees in decisions, before those decisions are made, on improving agency efficiency as well as on other matters affecting working conditions.
The latest confusing term thrown into the federal sector labor management relations arena is "pre-decisional involvement," often shortened to "PDI."
Collective bargaining (or "negotiating,") is a perfect example of pre-decisional involvement. If management wants, for example, a procedure for filling vacancies through merit selection, the parties meet, reach an agreement (or have an agreement imposed on them by the Federal Service Impasses Panel), and thus decide what the procedure should be. This pre-decisional involvement by the employees through their union is in stark contrast to the normal process in a non-union environment, where management unilaterally develops the selection procedures, announces it, and then allows employee comments.
It must be kept in mind that "collective bargaining" is defined in federal sector labor law as meeting at reasonable times "in a good-faith effort to reach agreement with respect to the conditions of employment affecting" the employees the union represents (and, at the request of either party, signing a document embodying any agreement that is reached). 5 U.S.C. § 7103(a)(12).
There are, therefore, various possible ways to conduct collective bargaining. The union has always preferred that both parties honestly discuss what they really want and why, and search for a solution which is truly satisfactory for both. This approach, "interest based bargaining," can be contrasted with management's traditional preference for interminable squabbling over proposals and counter-proposals, wasting the time and energy of everyone, and seldom generating an agreement which both substantially improves working conditions and improves agency efficiency.
Interest based bargaining itself can take place in a variety of ways, including discussions within a partnership council or a committee of such a council. The forum is not important; the fact of bargaining is. What distinguishes bargaining from other forms of labor-management discourse is that in bargaining both parties, not just the union, have a subjective desire to reach agreement and their objective behavior reflects that desire.
Congress has determined, by law, that pre-decisional involvement of employees through collective bargaining is in the public interest: "the right of employees to organize, bargain collectively, and participate through labor organizations of their own choosing in decisions which affect them . . . safeguards the public interest [and] contributes to the effective conduct of public business . . . " 5 U.S.C. § 7101(a).
In Executive Order 12871, President Clinton placed several requirements on agency management related to pre-decisional involvement of employees in matters affecting them. One was to involve employees (and their unions) in making the agencies work better; another was to negotiate with the unions over how the work will be performed:
The head of each agency . . . shall involve employees and their union representatives as full partners with management representatives to identify problems and craft solutions to better serve the agency's customers and mission; negotiate over the subjects set for in 5 U.S.C. § 7106(b)(1) and instruct subordinate officials to do the same.
As everyone knows by now, the § 7106(b)(1) subjects are "the numbers types, and grades of employees or positions assigned to any organizational subdivision, work project, or tour of duty, [and] the technology, methods, and means of performing work."
Hopefully, your local, council, or partnership committee already has a written agreement by management to comply with the executive order's bargaining obligation. However, the absence of such an agreement does not justify management's refusal to comply. At minimum, someone in management is committing insubordination if an order of the President of the United States is being violated.
Managers have no more right to act illegally or commit insubordination than any other employees have. In the real world, of course, that sort of misconduct by managers is not only tolerated, it is in many instances encouraged by those wishing to sabotage the whole system of collective bargaining. It is no surprise that managers who have strung out bargaining over merit promotion procedures or the assignment of parking spaces for months and years will not eagerly comply with the need to bargain over how many secretaries, and at what grade levels, are needed in a particular work area.
At the same time, you should recognize that many individual issues do not warrant highly formalized bargaining. The important thing is that the parties sit down together, make a good faith effort to reach agreement, and comply with any agreement that is reached. If management insists on calling this informal process "pre-decisional involvement" rather than bargaining or negotiations, so what?
The AFGE Office of Labor Management Relations is committed to working closely with the AFGE National Representatives assigned to the various locals to develop and implement successful strategies to conduct pre-decisional involvement of employees (through their unions) in matters affecting working conditions and agency efficiency.
What has been called pre-decisional involvement has occurred most often as a prelude to a reorganization. Consistent with the Executive Order, management wants employees to participate in deciding how the a particular office should be staffed, and what changes in technology should be adopted. It makes more sense to have this employee participation prior to making the decision rather than afterwards. Management does not have the right, however, to unilaterally determine the mode of the employee involvement.
Note, moreover, that pre-decisional involvement on issues concerning a possible reorganization can be initiated by the union. There is no need to wait for management to decide it would benefit from that type of employee participation.
Finally, it should be noted that the General Counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority has also posted a guidance memorandum on pre-decisional involvement. www.flra.gov/gc/pdicur1.html. Although there is much useful material in that memorandum, the FLRA general counsel tends to contrast "pre-decisional involvement" with "collective bargaining," rather than recognizing that the latter is simply the statutorily preferred method of obtaining the former. Moreover, without actually saying so, the memorandum seems to suggest that involving employees to identify problems and craft solutions to better serve agency missions is left to the discretion of management at the facility level, rather than having been mandated by the highest level of management in the federal government. The memorandum nevertheless presents many interesting and useful thoughts.
Any comments on, or questions about, this guidance should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.