Today, the union requested mediation assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) regarding our negotiations with SEC management over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The parties completed their formal CBA negotiating sessions last week, and this week we exchanged “Last Best Offers” on most of the articles that the parties opened for discussion last spring. Seeking mediation at FMCS is a last chance for the parties to reach agreement before taking an “impasse” (a fundamental disagreement over contract terms) to the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) for final adjudication.
The parties have been at the CBA bargaining table frequently since last spring. At this time, we continue to remain in disagreement over key features of our work lives that will determine whether the SEC will continue to be able to recruit and retain the top-flight professional staff necessary to accomplish our important mission. The union views the situation as regrettable and unnecessary. The SEC’s union leadership prefers to approach all negotiations and/or disagreements with management in an “interest based” fashion—a process that assumes mutual gains by both parties is possible and accordingly seeks solutions that will satisfy their mutual interests. In interest based negotiations, both parties communicate their fundamental interests, and then seek resolutions that will meet as many of both parties’ interests as possible. Unfortunately, under current SEC leadership, that approach has fallen on deaf ears.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler appears to view negotiations with his own employees’ representatives as a “zero sum” game in which both parties exercise their rights by taking positions, rather than discussing interests, culminating in litigation with a winner and a loser. With such a position-based approach, rather than attempting to seek common ground, a party simply seeks to push its own agenda without regard to the interests or needs of the other party. Consequently, with respect to many of the issues advanced by the union on behalf of SEC employees, Gensler’s management bargaining team was not even permitted to engage in substantive discussions with the union team other than to set issues aside without discussion, never to return to them. At this point in Chair Gensler’s tenure at the SEC, this comes as no surprise to the union’s team. His tenure as the head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission was marked by a similar my-way-or-the-highway style that culminated in the unionization of his workforce.
What is surprising is that SEC employees are facing a CBA fight during the Biden administration, which has clearly and repeatedly signaled that federal agency heads should work collaboratively with their employees’ union representatives. It has been over a decade since the last time NTEU Chapter 293 was required to seek assistance from FMCS and FSIP to resolve an SEC CBA negotiation. Even during the Trump administration, which was decidedly anti-federal employee, such litigation was never necessary at our agency.
“We certainly find it unfortunate that Chair Gensler does not appear to be willing to work with us to reach agreement,” NTEU Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman said about the dispute this afternoon. “For months we have made every conceivable effort to collaborate with management at the CBA table, including holding back on messaging about our disagreements to give management space to adjust, in a serious effort to get to a good place,” he added. “Unfortunately, the writing has been on the wall since Chair Gensler arrived. Despite the union’s best efforts to collaborate, that just doesn’t appear to be the way he does business. So we will have to take this to the next phase.”
The last time SEC management went down this road, the FMCS and FSIP process took many months to complete. The union will be providing further updates on specific CBA disputes over the weeks ahead.