Grundmann previously held leadership positions in several unions and chaired a separate oversight agency for federal employees, the Merit Systems Protection Board, during the Obama administration. She will replace a Republican FLRA member who served after her term expired.
The FLRA is an independent agency that functions much like the National Labor Relations Board does for the private sector.
Unlike private sector employees represented by unions, federal employees do not have the right to strike, and their unions generally cannot negotiate wages and benefits. However, the Civil Service Act allows negotiation of “terms of employment”. Many disputes brought before the FLRA involve what this term covers or excludes.
This is now playing out in the negotiation of coronavirus safety protocols in the federal workplace and which federal employees will be allowed to telecommute, and how often, in the long term.
Unions cheered Grundmann’s confirmation, which was voted 50 to 49, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joining Democrats and one Democrat not voting.
“Over the past few years, the majority of the FLRA has issued policy rulings and statements that consistently ignored legal precedent and sought to minimize the voice of federal employees in the federal workplace,” said the National Union President. Treasury employee, Tony Reardon.
Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the confirmation “will restore the dignity and fairness of this important administrative body.”
During the Trump administration, the board made a number of decisions in favor of management by issuing policy statements at the request of the Office of Personnel Management and other agencies.
For example, the FLRA raised the standard requiring agencies to negotiate changes to working conditions during an employment contract. It also limited management’s obligation to negotiate other new issues during this period.
In separate cases decided in late January and early February, a federal appeals court overturned those actions, saying the agency had no justification for departing from its own longstanding practices.
Each of these policies had been issued by a 2-to-1 vote by the FLRA board of directors, with the two Republicans in favor and the Democrat dissenting. Democratic member Ernest DuBester is now chairman of the board, having been elevated to the position by President Biden last year. Biden also nominated DuBester for an additional term, a nomination that remains pending in the Senate.
Grundmann’s confirmation represents the latest leadership shift under the Biden administration from its predecessor regarding unions that represent about 1.2 million of the 2.1 million federal employees outside the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS is even more heavily unionized, but private sector labor law applies.
In one of his first actions as president, Biden revoked several Trump administration orders that had restricted federal employees’ bargaining and appeal rights.
He has taken a number of steps applauded by unions since then, including issuing guidelines encouraging agencies to better inform potential and current employees about union presence in the federal workplace and union representation rights.