NCUA Employees Win Right To Form Union; Agency Appeals

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The Federal Labor Relations Authority, which rules over labor issues for federal employees, approved a proposed collective bargaining unit for NCUA that would include the agency's 500 field examiners, setting the stage for a vote by NCUA employees to form their own union.

In a ruling issued the final week of last year, the FLRA rejected NCUA's position that field examiners amount to management employees because they help set policy, and as such should not be included in the proposed bargaining unit. Without the field examiners, which make up the bulk of NCUA's workforce, or the 135 supervisors and department heads, the proposed bargaining unit would be severely limited in scope and power.

Among the positions approved by the FLRA to participate in the union vote are: examiner, problem case officer, regional training specialist, attorney, realty specialist, and risk management analyst.

But NCUA indicated last week it plans to appeal the ruling, which was issued by the FLRA's regional office, to the full FLRA. This could set back a vote by several months. "NCUA believes that the issue of whether the examiners are management officials, as defined in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute and therefore should be excluded from the bargaining unit, is of such great importance than an appeal to the full Authority is certainly warranted," said NCUA Executive Director Len Skiles, in a statement.

Plan Could Backfire

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which is organizing NCUA employees, expressed disappointment at NCUA's stance, saying it could backfire by creating enmity among employees who may be wavering on a union vote. "If they're going to move forward with this appeal then they're going to send a clear message to the employees," said Kelley.

Kelley, whose union represents workers at the FDIC, Comptroller of the Currency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission among the 150,000 federal employees in its membership, said similar tactics helped push the fledgling union effort over the top at the SEC. "The SEC fought us for 18 months and it angered employees and built significant support for the union," she said.

NCUA employees have been working with union organizers for more than a year to organize their own bargaining unit. Among the major issues of concern are workplace conditions, standards for telecommuting, which most examiners work under, and pay according to Kelley. "They want to be able to negotiate wages and benefits, just as we do in the FDIC and OCC," she said.

To most of the NCUA employees involved in the organizing, the effort to form their own union is based mostly on the desire to have input into the working conditions, according to one examiner who did not want to be identified. "There's such a great disparity across the nation on working conditions, and there's no grievance procedure," she said. "I think in general it's a good place to work, but if you're out in the field, there's not much respect."

The source told The Credit Union Journal there is very little effort by the agency to gather input from examiners. "We think we have a right to be represented (by a union) and should be represented," she said.

'Affirming' Decision

The FLRA decision, Kelley said, "affirms what the NTEU has been saying all along, that examiners are not supervisors or management officials. These people should have the right to determine on their own whether they want to join a union."

Kelley said in organizing employees at the FDIC and OCC, both of which have large examiner staffs, the issue of whether field examiners constitute management never came up.

Union organizers at NCUA have gathered signatures from more than 50% of the 800 employees believed eligible to join the union, far more than the 30% needed to hold an election. NCUA has a total of 935 employees.

The union had hoped to hold a vote by this spring or early this summer.

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