Erich Wagner | August 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

Union Official Blasts Lack of Ideological Diversity on Mediation Panel

Trump's picks for the panel won't be subject to Senate confirmation. Trump's picks for the panel won't be subject to Senate confirmation. Carolyn Kaster/AP

The head of the National Federation of Federal Employees expressed grave concerns about the future of a federal panel that handles agency-union disagreements, after President Trump appointed a number of members with resumes featuring overtly anti-labor causes.

Trump announced his picks for the seven-member Federal Service Impasses Panel at the end of a round-up of White House appointments and nominations. Members of the panel are not subject to Senate confirmation.

NFFE President Randy Erwin said in a statement that the new panel suggests a “common disdain for the labor community.”

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“The Trump administration pulled out all of the stops on this one,” Erwin said. “The diversity of this panel ranges from people who publicly campaign against unions to people that actively litigate against unions. I have little faith that this panel can properly evaluate a dispute without inherent bias or personal ideology interfering.”

The FSIP serves as the arbiter of disputes between federal agencies and unions that arise from the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations statute and the Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act. The panel steps in if the agency and union cannot come to an agreement after bargaining or mediation. Although panel members serve five-year terms, they can be fired by the president.

NFFE spokesman Steve Lenkart acknowledged that new presidents have traditionally installed their own choices on the panel and that its ideological makeup has “ping-ponged” depending on the party in power. President Obama similarly replaced his predecessor’s appointees to the FSIP after he was elected, but Lenkart pointed out that, unlike Trump’s picks, most of them had extensive experience in mediation and arbitration on labor issues.

None of the new panel members have arbitration or mediation experience in their bios, although Chairman Mark Carter is a lawyer who advised employers on labor issues and Karen Czarnecki served in the Labor Department during the George W. Bush administration. Donald Todd is president of the Americans for Limited Government Foundation, a Koch-brothers funded group, and Jonathan Riches is an executive at the conservative Goldwater Institute. F. Vincent Vernuccio is a labor policy analyst for a conservative think tank, and an ardent supporter of “right to work” legislation.

Perhaps most notable, however, is David Osborne. According to his bio, he is “president and general counsel of the Fairness Center, a nonprofit public-interest law firm offering free legal services to those hurt by public employee union officials.”

Lenkart said he fears the new appointees will simply serve as a “rubber stamp” for agencies in the dispute resolution process.

“It was always a fairly healthy mix—even during the Bush administration, he had people who had represented both employers and labor or had a history of mediation and arbitration as a profession,” Lenkart said. “That’s where this group takes a right turn. Everyone in here are people who have never represented a union or people who have always been actively against unions.”

Erwin said that NFFE will keep a close eye on the panel to ensure that it approaches its role in an impartial manner.

“FSIP must perform its functions in a legitimate way—which is required by law—and its panelists must not betray the oath of office they took when they accepted their positions,” he said. “They have a responsibility to the American people to impartially perform their official duties.”

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