The grim news that a complaint has been issued by an independent federal agency alleging that the SEC has violated the most basic statutory requirement in dealing with its own workforce – the duty to bargain in good faith with its employees' representatives – raises serious questions about SEC senior leadership's approach to dealing with the men and women who perform the day to day mission of the Commission.
The Federal Labor Relations Authority’s complaint against the SEC is remarkable. As the president of a strong, well supported chapter of a federal labor union it is, of course, not news to me that some managers at our agency are inclined to take aggressive positions at the negotiating table. However, while honest disagreements are one thing, we are obligated nevertheless to follow the rules. In the context of bargaining, under federal labor law that means that both parties must come to the table and make a good faith effort to reach an agreement. The SEC has a legal obligation to participate actively in deliberations and make a sincere effort to find a basis for agreement and reach common ground.
The Union’s key CBA proposals are hardly controversial. We are seeking the preservation and, in some cases, modest expansion of a few mainstream rights and benefits enjoyed by millions of employees in both the public and private sector. These rights and benefits would not increase the agency's budget, but they would increase employee morale. And yet the SEC has been unwilling to negotiate these proposals in good faith, or to cooperate fully with basic requests for information that might justify the agency's positions. Furthermore, during the negotiations the agency has insisted that employees give up existing mainstream rights and benefits. Given the already challenging climate for federal employees generally and SEC employees in particular, the union is at a loss to explain what SEC senior management is attempting to achieve in these negotiations.
The good news is that the CBA situation is not the whole story here at the SEC. Indeed, there are a great many managers at the agency who have actively fostered positive relations with their employees’ union representatives, rather than adversarial ones. Many of these managers are as unhappy as frontline staff with the current approach of senior management to labor relations.
The benefits of a positive and collaborative approach to labor-management relations are obvious. The SEC’s frontline staff and managers alike have a strong interest in ensuring that the SEC succeeds in its fundamental mission of protecting U.S. investors. For that reason, they have a mutual stake in working cooperatively to enhance the agency’s effectiveness and efficiency, increase employee morale and reduce employment-related conflicts.
Notwithstanding many positive local labor-management relationships at our agency, however, over the past year or so the SEC’s senior management team has chosen to actively pursue an adversarial agenda in its national negotiations over employee compensation, rights, benefits and the performance management system. I believe that this agenda, together with the high amount of negativity that it engenders, is causing great harm to our agency.
Tone is set at the top of any organization. Despite the hard work of many local managers and employees to develop successful collaborative relationships, employee morale has plummeted and the SEC’s reputation as a desirable place to work has suffered. A change in approach by senior leadership is needed.
We understand that constructing an effective labor-management relationship at the SEC 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. However senior management approaches our relationship, the union will continue to reflect these important values and make every effort to work together collaboratively.