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National Right to Work Foundation Blasts Ruling Trapping Blue Ridge Parkway Employees in Union

FLRA merged two work units at union officials’ behest with no worker input, now cites merger to deny worker request for vote to remove union

The National Right to Work Foundation today blasted a Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) ruling barring a group of National Park Service (NPS) employees from exercising their right to vote American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union officials out of power at their workplace. The FLRA dubiously cited its top-down “merger” of two preexisting work units of NPS employees into one unit as a reason for why the vote shouldn’t proceed.

The affected employees are Blue Ridge Parkway employee Lauren Labrie and her coworkers, who in 2021 backed a petition with enough employee support to prompt the FLRA to hold an election on whether to oust AFGE union officials. Labrie and her colleagues are receiving free legal aid from the Foundation.

National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix criticized the FLRA’s ruling: “The Biden FLRA has abandoned all pretense of defending employees’ right to freely choose who will speak for them in the workplace with this ruling. Instead of just allowing Blue Ridge Parkway workers to vote on whether they support AFGE, the FLRA has effectively announced to all federal employees that agency bureaucrats can shield union bosses from workers’ will by merging multiple units of employees.”

“This is another attempt by Biden Administration officials to expand the influence and power of their political allies within federal and other government unions, all to the detriment of rank-and-file workers who want to exercise their individual rights, said Mix. Every individual worker should get to decide for him or herself whether or not to affiliate with a union – not have federal bureaucrats thrust union bosses’ so-called ‘representation’ on them against their will, and without even the ability to hold a prompt vote to remove an unwanted union.”

FLRA “Consolidated” Units at Union Behest, Then Stopped Workers from Voting on Union

AFGE union officials petitioned to consolidate Labrie’s work unit and another unit of NPS employees in 2021. A regional FLRA official approved the move in September 2021, without giving employees an opportunity to vote on whether they actually wanted the merger.

Labrie and her coworkers submitted their petition to decertify the union in December 2021. A regional FLRA official dismissed the petition in March 2022, claiming it was blocked by a 12-month “certification bar” stemming from the top-down consolidation of the work units, and that the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute permits such a restriction.

Park Employee’s Brief: Blocking Election Stifles Employees’ Free Choice Rights

After requesting review from the FLRA in Washington, Foundation attorneys argued in a brief that applying a bar to employee-requested elections after agency-imposed unit consolidations violates federal employees’ free choice rights, which the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute was meant to protect.

“In passing the Statute, Congress’ intent was to promote secret ballot elections and employees’ freedom to choose their representative under the Statute,” the brief said. “Not allowing employees to exercise their free choice because the Authority administratively combined two bargaining units undermines Congress’ goal of promoting the right of employees to select their own agent.”

Despite there being no precedent or statutory authorization for blocking employee-requested decertification elections after a top-down unit consolidation, the FLRA in Washington issued a May 2023 decision relying on its own “discretion to regulate representation proceedings” and ruled that a “certification bar” blocked Labrie and her coworkers’ requested vote.

National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys said they are determining the next steps for Labrie and her coworkers. While, according to the FLRA, Labrie and her coworkers can currently be forced to accept the “representation” of AFGE officials, they and all public sector American employees have a First Amendment right under the Foundation-won 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision to cut off financial support to a union they oppose.

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