Recently, the number of federal employees belonging to a union has spiked by 20%, which accounts for almost 80,000 individuals in just a year’s time. This was reported by the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, which was created merely three months into President Joe Biden’s presidency. The goal was to have 300,000 federal employees in the union who hadn’t joined before.
The Biden administration approved nearly 70 recommendations that aimed “to reduce barriers to worker organizing” last year. These proposals led to the taxpayer-funded Department of Labor’s marketing campaign and policy changes in various agencies. They also enabled workers to communicate with union organizers at their workplaces, streamlined the payroll deductions process for union dues and promoted resources about the “union advantage” and “successful organizing.”
The new union members, for which the Biden administration is taking credit, using the estimated dues of the most significant federal employee union, could imply $37 million to $46 million in annual dues revenue. However, as these employees go through the union door, union officials, and government agencies seem determined to slam it behind them.
For employees who feel this arrangement violates their rights, litigation may be the only way out, which is something the Fairness Center, the public interest law firm, is taking advantage of. President of the Fairness Center, Nathan McGrath, states that in the last year, his firm has filed 36 matters on behalf of federal employees, including 16 unions and eight federal agencies.
Kjarbo is one of many clients that the Fairness Center is supporting, who faced financial difficulties and tried to resign her membership in the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). However, they refused to proceed with the resignation until she’d convinced the local union president. The FLRA permits federal employees who have been serving for at least one year to revoke their union membership and stop paying dues at any time, but the union president still rejected her resignation.
Kjarbo filed unfair labor practice charges with the FLRA against the IRS and union to defend herself. However, charges filed by individuals against unions have a slim chance of holding unions accountable. FLRA records show that since 2015, only 21 of 1,211 charges, which accounts for less than 2%, reached an enforcement action or settlement.
The FLRA found merit in Kjarbo’s allegations and charged the IRS with unfair labor practice. Although the agency settled, committing to informing Kjarbo’s colleagues about their wrongdoings, they intend to throw out the existing union-resignation rule and make it even harder for employees to leave their unions. They want to restrict all federal employees, no matter their length of service, from leaving their unions except for a narrow window of time each year. To our growing list of federal-employee clients, this is no coincidence.
Overall, the Biden administration has found success in increasing the number of members in unions among federal employees. However, it’s not the workers who are empowered by its policies, but the union officials. To add insult to injury, government agencies and unions show a pattern of hindering employees’ efforts to leave the union. As Kjarbo’s experience shows, these roadblocks are ripe for abuse. Employees who feel as though they are wronged have to turn to litigation if they wish to hold the union accountable.