1/6/11: This week, NTEU Chapter 293 filed a national grievance challenging the SEC's decision to unilaterally change the office selection policy in the Headquarters Trial Unit in violation of federal labor law.
Many employees at Headquarters will be moving into new offices in "SP3" in the near future. As part of that moving process, the agency is required to negotiate with the employees' Union representatives over certain issues, including how offices will be selected. Under the SP3 agreement that the Union reached with management, employees are permitted to select an office based upon their seniority from among offices assigned to their "Work Unit."
For years, the relatively small Trial Unit in Headquarters has been treated as one “Work Unit” for purposes of such office selections. For example, during the “restacking” move a couple of years ago, the Union negotiated an agreement that defined “Work Unit” as “Assistant Director Group” and under that contract the Trial Unit, which does not have Assistant Director Groups, was treated as one “Work Unit.” In fact, the identical "Work Unit" language is also contained in the current SP3 office move agreement. Similarly, in the SP1 office move before that, the Trial Unit was treated as one “Work Unit.” And, at the beginning of the current SP3 office move, the SEC provided plans to the Union that showed the Trial Unit was being treated as one “Work Unit” once again.
In August of last year, the SEC appointed Matthew Martens as the new Chief Litigation Counsel to head up the Trial Unit in Headquarters. Not long thereafter, Mr. Martens announced to the Union that he wanted to change the past practice in the Trial Unit by requiring Trial Unit attorneys to select from a far more limited number of offices so that they could all be closely clustered near the Assistant Chief Litigation Counsel to whom they are assigned. Apparently, this was the way that Mr. Martens organized the offices of his employees in the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The Union responded that such a change would require bargaining under federal labor law, and that there really did not seem to be the need for such a change since the Trial Unit is a relatively small unit. Clustering the Trial Attorneys into small, separate groups would not result in a significant increase in communications with their supervisors, but it would result in employees with substantial seniority getting the short end of the stick in office selections. And, the Union pointed out, Trial Unit attorneys, who ably represent our agency every day in federal court with confidence, intelligence and independence, do not need to be closely supervised and micromanaged in this fashion.
Nevertheless, rather than comply with its obligation to negotiate over this proposed change, the SEC decided to simply mandate this change unilaterally. For that reason, the Union has filed a national grievance, and expects to take the case to arbitration.
"It really is unfortunate that we were required to file this grievance," NTEU Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman noted earlier today. "We polled the affected Trial Unit attorneys, and they were overwhelmingly opposed to this unilateral diminishment of the office selection process that they had previously enjoyed. This decision is having a predictable negative impact upon employee morale, which was already very low as evidenced by the Enforcement Division's low scores in the Federal Human Capital Survey. We recently established a new Labor-Management Forum at the SEC, to comply with President Obama's Executive Order on labor relations. But that message has not penetrated very deeply in some portions of our agency, unfortunately."
"It seems ironic that management of the SEC's law enforcement Trial Unit would disregard the requirements of federal labor law by unilaterally changing the office selection policy, as it is this type of conduct they are charged with prosecuting when it comes to the disregard of the federal securities laws," noted NTEU attorney Ralph Talarico, who will be handling the arbitration.
The Union will keep you posted on this matter.