Top Democrats on two House committees are demanding that Education Secretary Betsy Devos provide documents related to a department decision earlier this year to implement a new collective bargaining agreement without its union’s consent and to return to the negotiating table.
Earlier this year, the Education Department cut off negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees over ground rules on a new collective bargaining agreement, and then submitted a new CBA that stripped dozens of privileges and protections from employees, including telework and official time. The union rejected that deal, but the department in March implemented it unilaterally anyway, claiming AFGE had dragged its feet in negotiations. Following the implementation of the new CBA, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the department.
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In a letter to Devos on Tuesday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott, D-Va., said the actions of political appointees at the department may have violated the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, which requires representatives of labor and management to conduct negotiations “in good faith.”
“We are investigating reports of sudden and troubling actions by political appointees at the Department of Education to suspend ongoing collective bargaining negotiations with the union representing employees at the department, to cancel all previously scheduled negotiation sessions, and to unilaterally force onto these employees a new collective bargaining agreement that was neither bargained for nor agreed to by the department’s workforce,” they wrote.
The lawmakers noted that before department leadership declared that the parties had reached an impasse, both labor and management had reached agreement on a number of ground rule provisions while they continued to work on others. And after informing AFGE that it planned to implement the new CBA, the department refused to recognize the union’s demand to bargain, an ordinarily standard request when management intends to change the terms of a labor contract.
“The department made significant changes to the collective bargaining agreement that had been in place previously and reduced the number of articles from 44 to eight,” Cummings and Scott wrote. “For example, the contract severely restricted the amount of ‘official time’ union leaders may spend on labor relations, required union officials to turn in agency equipment including laptops and cellphones, and evicted union officials from agency office space. These changes obstruct employees in need of their union’s services and representation.”
The lawmakers demanded all documents relating to the decision to end negotiations with AFGE, all communications on the subject to which Devos was a party, as well as communications between the Department and the White House on collective bargaining. And they requested that the department restore the previous CBA and return to negotiations on a new agreement.
“We request that you remedy this troubling situation by directing department officials to immediately: withdraw the terms covering [AFGE] Council 252 that the department unilaterally implemented in March; resume bargaining with AFGE; and abide by the terms of the expired collective bargaining agreement for the duration of negotiations.”
Earlier this month, the department announced a new telework policy, which would go into effect Oct. 1 and replace the agreement from the previous CBA. Unlike the old policy, which allowed for employees to work remotely up to full time, the new program would require employees to commute to a department office four days per week, allowing for telework only one day per week and effectively banning those on alternative work schedules from participation.