AFGE, Education Resolve Years of Negotiations Resolving Over 20 Disputes – Federal News Network | Team Cansler

After four years of contentious negotiations, the Department of Education reached a final agreement with its federal union.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents nearly 4,000 employees at the Department of Education, hailed the resolution as a “major victory” for the union in a Nov. 21 press release.

The settlement originally stemmed from the agency’s decision in March 2018 to end all ongoing negotiations with AFGE and implement its own union terms and policies document.

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After four years of contentious negotiations, the Department of Education reached a final agreement with its federal union.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents nearly 4,000 employees at the Department of Education, hailed the resolution as a “major victory” for the union in a Nov. 21 press release.

The settlement originally stemmed from the agency’s decision in March 2018 to end all ongoing negotiations with AFGE and implement its own union terms and policies document.

“Most disputes stem from this one action,” Cathie McQuiston, AFGE’s deputy general counsel, said in an interview with the Federal News Network. “The agency tried for three years to enforce their unlawful contract. Subsequent violations, up to and including claiming our term, filling union offices, failing to negotiate the union, denying us use of a grievance and arbitration mechanism – all of these subsequent disputes arose out of the original decision to unilaterally enforce their contract on us .”

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Federal News Network on the settlement.

After Education published its union policy document, AFGE filed a series of indictments against the agency between March 2018 and August 2020, including 14 complaints of unfair labor practices (ULPs), 10 complaints and arbitrations, and more.

The terms that Education proposed in 2018 after the conclusion of union negotiations did not include previously agreed policies on teleworking, training and disability exceptions, to name a few.

The terms also included stricter guidelines on the use of service time by union employees and restrictions on the union’s use of the department’s office space and consumables. According to AFGE, between July 2018 and 2020, the education system exempted around 600 education workers from wage deductions.

The agency document also changed policies related to employee performance standards and relocated both the Chicago and Dallas regional offices. AFGE said it never agreed to the terms proposed by Education.

At the time, the inconsistent guidelines left education workers feeling confused and demoralized.

“It was a really difficult, contentious time,” McQuiston said.

The agency’s contract terms were originally intended to remain in place until 2025, but now, just four years later, the settlement created a new collective bargaining agreement, replacing the previous contract that Education had presented without union negotiations.

The new agreement between AFGE and Education will remain in effect until at least May 2023. At that point, either or both parties may reopen the terms for negotiation. But so far there have been no decisions on the next steps of the collective agreement.

In addition to the new agreement, some of the changes resulting from the settlement included the restoration of wage deductions, reimbursement of lost union dues, return of union office space and equipment, and compensation to union officials for previously refused official time. Collective bargaining unit staff can now also lodge grievances about the agency’s actions if or when necessary – the 2018 Education Directive previously prohibited this practice.

The latest agreement was the result of years of negotiations between the agency and the union. AFGE said it would be more easily able to negotiate after the Trump administration ends.

“We’ve been trying to solve it most of the time, unsuccessfully,” McQuiston said. “In the final settlement agreement that we entered into, we spent just over a year on the specific terms of that agreement.”

Now AFGE said it hopes to continue building its relationship with the agency.

“As with many agencies in the Trump administration, it has been a contentious relationship between the union and management, and this was no exception,” McQuiston said. “Hopefully that can be improved and we can work together to make it a great place to work in the Department of Education.”

McQuiston also said she hoped the years of negotiations would also serve as a “lesson” for future governments.

“AFGE will always fight for the rights of the workers we represent and our rights as a union,” McQuiston said in a press statement. “And that fight went on for over four years, but we have repulsed all illegal attempts by the Trump administration to bust the union at the Department of Education. We have regained our rights and want this to be a lesson to all future governments trying these types of anti-union tactics, that AFGE will never stop fighting for the workers we represent.”

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