Fostering the Labor-Management Relationship


President's Perspective, April 2007: SEC employees and managers alike have a strong interest in ensuring that the SEC succeeds in its mission of regulating and protecting the financial markets of the United States. For that reason, SEC management and SEC employees’ union representatives both have a mutual stake in working cooperatively to enhance the agency’s effectiveness and efficiency, increase employee morale, and reduce employment-related disputes. Constructing an effective labor-management relationship at the agency is a two-way street. It requires both management and union leaders to be honest with one another, to respect their different interests, and to build upon their common interests. As NTEU President Colleen Kelley has noted in the past: “Working together in partnership allows agency management and federal employees to work together to solve problems that hinder effective delivery of federal services.” Unfortunately, however, the SEC has not always worked to build such a relationship with NTEU.

Recent events strongly suggest that when the SEC opts to pursue an aggressive and adversarial relationship with its own employees and their union representatives, it is not ultimately in the best interest of the agency or its mission. As one example, Arbitrator Sharnoff’s January decision in favor of NTEU on the PLUS loan dispute, which ultimately led to last month’s monetary settlement on behalf of employees, ended a legal battle between the agency and its own employees that had lasted for more than a year. It is important to understand that this dispute was not just about the policy question of whether the agency should reimburse employees’ PLUS loans. It also concerned the broader and more fundamental issue of whether the agency may act on its own, without returning to the bargaining table, to alter the terms of a benefit that was negotiated for employees by their union representatives. As the Arbitrator’s decision made clear, the agency’s choice to proceed in this fashion violated the law. But it is equally important to note that the SEC’s choice to act unilaterally also demonstrated a troubling disrespect for its own employees and their rights – which had a negative impact upon employee morale.

There are other recent examples, such as the unilateral decision by Division of Corporation Finance managers to shift certain administrative tasks to professional staff members who were already under significant pressure to meet goals and deadlines due to significant staff attrition over the past year, and the unilateral decision by management to shift the functions of some OCIE examiners to the Division of Market Regulation. In both of these situations, rather than providing union representatives with required reasonable advance notice, a briefing and an opportunity to address employee concerns, the managers opted instead to act unilaterally, leading to entirely predictable increased anxiety and decreased morale on the part of affected agency employees. When union representatives and managers finally conferred on these issues, it was in a more adversarial context that had been unnecessarily created by management’s own choices.

It cannot be gainsaid that there are many managers at the SEC who choose to foster productive relationships with their employees’ union representatives, rather than adversarial ones. They understand the obvious benefits of such an approach.

It is also important to note that, in 2001, when the president signed an Executive Order ending the prior administration’s emphasis upon labor-management partnerships in the federal government, the administration also continued to encourage agencies to establish cooperative labor-management relations, because it serves the important goal of delivering federal services in an efficient fashion.

NTEU continues to strongly urge SEC management to actively seek a positive relationship with the union.

by Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman