The fate of a union contract representing roughly 300 Scott Air Force Base employees will go to a federal panel appointed by President Donald Trump if negotiations continue to stall.
Union leaders say they are concerned conservative members of the panel could favor management over union employees, while the panel's executive director says members make fair decisions in the interest of the public.
The National Association of Independent Labor Local 19 has been in negotiations with management since late November, said George Reaves, Jr., a national representative based in Newport News, Virginia.
The local union represents civilian employees at the Air Force Base who work at on-base services like the Child Development Center, the golf course or bowling alley, according to Reaves.
Union members asked for increased annual raises of at least 2 percent and benefits for "flex" employees who work a certain amount of hours. The union has been operating under the same contract since 2011, renewing it every three years.
But negotiations stalled last week when management announced they couldn't accept all the terms proposed by the union, according to Reaves and base officials. The two parties had agreed on 35 provisions over four months of effort, Reaves said, with just 16 articles remaining, including the pay and benefits issues.
"This is the first time this has happened to me," Reaves said of the sudden stall.
He has been working as a union representative for more than 40 years.
Base officials said they still hope "to reach an agreement with the Union for an updated (contract) that is consistent with Federal Regulations," according to base spokeswoman Karen Petitt.
When federal labor talks fail
When negotiations between federal agencies and unions representing federal employees fail, one or both parties can request assistance from the Federal Service Impasses Panel.
The panel consists of seven members appointed by the president. Trump appointed new members to the board in July last year, raising concerns among union leaders.
Mark Anthony Carter, chairman of the panel, is a West Virginia attorney who represents companies in labor negotiations. Other members include an airline lobbyist, the president of a law firm working "for those hurt by public sector unions," a former employee at conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation and leaders from institutions that advocate for limited government.
The union representative said he has had success in the past after bringing negotiations to the panel under both Bush administrations and the Obama administration, but he's not sure what to expect from the Trump-appointed group. Reaves said most of his prior negotiations were settled through mediation with an individual member of the panel.
But the panel can also choose to make a final decision in a case without going through a mediation process. In this process, the union and management both submit "written submissions," which the panel considers and then issues an order. The parties can appeal the panel's findings, but the panel has the final authority.
Recent cases brought to the Trump-appointed panel have gone through the written submissions process rather than sending a member for negotiations, according to the panel's online records, but those records do not include cases resolved before the panel had to make an order.
Issuing an order in those cases is a departure from the mediation process, which Reaves says has resulted in fair negotiations in the past.
"We don't know whats going to happen at this case," Reaves said.
Kimberly Moseley, executive director of the panel, says she understands why unions are concerned, but said panel members "are expected to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the government and the taxpayers."
Moseley pointed out that the panel makes decisions both in favor of unions and employers, depending on the circumstances.
"Are they appointed by a Republican administration? Yes. Are they going to go management’s way? Not necessarily," Moseley said. "I know the unions are concerned but it’s not just that simple. Cases are decided on their own merit. Each case has its own uniqueness."
Panel records show they ruled in favor of both management and unions in separate cases recently. Those records are available on the Federal Service Impasses Panel website.
The union representative said he could file with the panel as soon as early April after obtaining the management's position on the remaining issues.
The base spokeswoman said the management believes "the open issues can be resolved through good faith negotiations between the Union and Management," and added, "the Union certainly has the right to file with the Federal Services Impasses Panel."
Details of Scott AFB negotiations
- Negotiations are for employees whose pay comes from non-appropriated funds. Non-appropriated fund jobs are funded by revenue from services, like a golf course or bowling alley. Appropriated fund jobs are funded by Congress. Both are considered federal jobs.
Flex employees can work up to 40 hours per week but do not receive any benefits like sick time or health insurance. The union argues flex workers who work more than 20 hours per week for more than 180 days in a row should be reclassified as regular employees and therefore receive benefits.
- Union members asked for an annual raise matching the increase in cost of living or of 2 percent, whichever is greater. They also asked for another raise on top of that based on performance ranging from 2 to 3 percent.
- The two parties met once a month in November, December and January, then again in March, when negotiations failed.