In another early win for organized labor, President Joe Biden on Tuesday requested that all 10 members of a key federal panel—who were appointed by his predecessor—immediately resign, and then fired the two appointees who refused to do so.
As Government Executive noted, former President Donald Trump had stacked the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), which handles disputes between agencies and unions during collective bargaining negotiations, “with anti-labor partisans, most of whom lacked experience in labor-management relations or conflict resolution.”
Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees—which represents over 700,000 government workers and had accused the Trump appointees of improperly favoring agencies—told Bloomberg Law that “FSIP is a critical component in the federal negotiating process, and we look forward to President Biden’s future picks issuing just decisions, unencumbered by political interference.”
Although presidents have previously replaced all panel members, Bloomberg Law pointed out that Biden acted more quickly than his predecessors:
Trump dismissed all members of the FSIP in May 2017—about four months after he took office—and then moved that summer to begin installing a new panel. Former President Barack Obama dismissed the panel in March 2009 and began naming new members that September.
FSIP members are appointed by the White House and serve at the pleasure of the president; they don’t require Senate confirmation and don’t have defined terms.
National Treasury Employees Union national president Tony Reardon called Biden’s overhaul of the panel “an extremely positive development.”
Reardon expressed hope that “an FSIP made up of individuals with a background in labor-management relations who are not hostile toward unions or workers will help put federal employee unions and agency leadership back on equal footing, where disagreements can be resolved fairly and in a way that serves the interests of employees, agencies and taxpayers.”
“The Trump-appointed panel was none of those things,” he told Government Executive, “and its record of nearly always siding with agency management, notwithstanding the record before it, proved its bias.”
International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers secretary-treasurer Matt Biggs also welcomed the development, saying in a statement Tuesday that “the FSIP members unilaterally installed by President Trump can best be described as a ‘who’s who’ of union busters and anti-government ideologues.”
“They spent the better part of the last four years unilaterally imposing draconian contracts on federal unions and their members,” Biggs said. “These are contracts that were not the result of good faith bargaining and compromise. Rather, they were intended to pull the rug out from under the union from any realistic ability to represent their members.”
The Senate Democratic Caucus backed union complaints about bad-faith negotiations “in a furious letter” to Andrew Saul, the Trump-appointed commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) who has not yet been removed by Biden, Mark Joseph Stern reported for Slate on Wednesday. He continued:
Employees at agencies throughout the executive branch have been scorched by Trump’s impasses panel. Its treatment of employees at the Social Security Administration, which oversees the country’s largest government program and operates the largest judicial system in the nation, provides a case in point. Shortly before the pandemic, the impasses panel rewrote the SSA union’s contract to roll back the agency’s teleworking program, which had increased employee efficiency. (Managers partially restored telework in 2020 several weeks after many other agencies switched to remote work.) It slashed the amount of time that workers could spend on union activities far beyond what management requested. And it abolished the agency’s responsibility to inform union members of their right to representation. To lock in these anti-union changes, the panel also extended the agreement by four years—though Biden’s new appointees should be able to reopen negotiations after overturning their predecessors’ policies.
The panel’s assault on the SSA union has implications for millions of Americans. Administrative law judges at the SSA hear claims for disability benefits, and because they exercise judicial powers, they are meant to be independent. Their union contract safeguards this independence from political interference. At the bargaining table, however, the SSA’s leaders stripped these safeguards from the contract—and the impasses panel backed their decision. Melissa McIntosh, president of the agency’s administrative law judge union, told me that the panel “took away our ability to protect our independence through the contract,” thereby depriving disabled Americans of their due process right to a neutral arbiter.
“Biden’s work is not yet finished: The Federal Labor Relations Authority, which houses the impasses panel, remains in Republican control,” Stern added, while also pointing out that the FSIP overhaul is not the president’s first action applauded by organized labor.
Shortly after taking office, Biden sacked Peter Robb, the Trump-appointed general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board blasted by critics as an “extreme, anti-union ideologue” and a “uniquely destructive figure.”
Stern noted in addition to appointing “a labor-friendly replacement” to the NLRB post, the president “reversed executive orders that had severely limited federal unions’ ability to organize and bargain.”