Federal Labor Relations
Labor organizations (unions) and collective bargaining in the civil
service are in the public interest. Employees are free to organize and elect
their union without any interference, coercion, threats, or retaliation from
- Employees have the right to form, join, or assist any labor
organization, or to refrain from any such activity, freely and without
fear of penalty or reprisal, and each employee shall be protected in the
exercise of such right. Such right includes the right:
- To act for a labor organization in the capacity of a
representative and the right, in that capacity to present the views
of the union to heads of agencies and other officials of the
executive branch of the Government, the Congress, or other
appropriate authorities, and
- To engage in collective bargaining with respect to conditions of
employment through representatives chosen by employees.
- While all bargaining unit employees are entitled to representation
by their union, employees are not required to join the union. An
employee “joins” the union by signing up on the appropriate form and
paying dues to the union.
- The union’s duty of fair representation means that the union must
represent and assist each bargaining unit employee, without
discrimination and regardless of whether he/she is a dues-paying member.
- The following is a list of common Federal Labor Relations terms
along with their definitions:
- Activity: A subordinate unit of an Agency.
- Agency: e.g., the U.S. Coast Guard
- AFGE: American Federation of Government Employees – one of a
number of labor organizations organized nationally to represent
groups of employees locally – AFGE is the largest union representing
primarily Federal employees.
- Arbitration: A method of resolving grievances – if a grievance
cannot be resolved between the parties, either party may decide to
refer the matter to an arbitrator, who hears the matter and renders
a binding decision (Note: an employee cannot independently take a
matter to an arbitrator).
- Bargaining Unit (BU): A group of non-supervisory employees
usually sharing similar conditions of employment and working
conditions and determined by the FLRA to have a clear and
identifiable community of interest such that their exercise of
rights will promote effective dealings with, and efficiency of the
operations of, the agency involved. (Also called an Appropriate
- CBA: Collective Bargaining Agreement – a document composed
through the joint effort of union and management describing certain
conditions of employment and working conditions observed by
management, the union, and employees in the bargaining unit. Each
agreement must, at a minimum, show the scope of its coverage and
contains a grievance mechanism.
- COE: Conditions of Employment – means personnel policies,
practices, and matters, whether established by rule, regulation, or
otherwise, affecting working conditions, except that such term does
not include policies, practices, and matters
- relating to political activities prohibited under civil
- relating to classification of any position, or
- to the extent such matters are specifically provided for by
- Exclusive Recognition: A status accorded by an Activity to the
union duly approved by the FLRA as the exclusive representative
(AFGE Local 3313) – the Activity may not deal with any other
organization concerning its employees, over matters that are within
the purview of the labor relations law.
- Exclusive Representative: e.g. AFGE Local 3313 is the exclusive
representative of all GS professional and non-professional employees
at Coast Guard Headquarters.
- FLRA: Federal Labor Relations Authority – independent agency of
the government charged with responsibility for guidance and final
decisions interpreting labor relations law, 5 USC Chapter 71.
- FMCS: Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service – independent
agency charged with helping both private companies, government
agencies and unions reach agreement without resorting to lockout or
strike, or in the case of Federal agencies, mandatory resolution by
- FSIP: Federal Service Impasses Panel – independent part of the
FLRA composed of a group of seven persons appointed by the President
to hear and resolve negotiation impasses – the FSIP serves in lieu
of strike or lockout – and has authority to issue findings with
which activities/agencies must comply.
- Judicial Review: Final actions of the FLRA may be reviewed by a
court. Arbitration decisions may be subject to review – on very
- NGP: Negotiated Grievance Procedure – required in a CBA – local
method to resolve work related problems raised by an employee within
a bargaining unit. Local decisions are subject to binding
- Official Time: An employee representing Local 3313 may, under
certain legal and/or negotiated provisions, use work time to carry
out negotiation or representative duties without charge to leave –
the time may not be used for internal union business such as
solicitation of membership, elections of local officers, collection
- OGC: Office of General Counsel – independent part of the FLRA.
Acts as investigator and prosecutor when a violation of law (ULP) is
- Regulations: The FLRA, the OGC, the FSIP, and the FMCS all have
authority to issue regulations prescribing actions to carry out
their respective responsibilities. FLRA regulations are found in 5
CFR 2400 series.
- Subpoena: The FLRA, the OGC and the FSIP may issue subpoenas
requiring attendance and testimony of witnesses and production of
documentary or other evidence from any place in the United States
(except that disclosure of intra-management advice and guidance or
training is not so subject).
- ULP: Unfair Labor Practice – violation of the labor law – may
occur by action or inaction of management or union – FLRA has
authority to correct and/or penalize for the infraction.