Federal employees had a difficult four years under the previous administration, from thinly veiled union-busting to unilateral removal of countless workplace protections. But things have been changing quickly under President Joe Biden. Continuing a trend of filling labor-related posts with experienced pro-worker nominees, Biden selected Susan Tsui Grundmann and Kurt Rumsfeld for seats on the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
"Federal workers can breathe a little easier now that President Biden has not only filled these vacancies, but has done so with experienced individuals who understand the importance of the work that our federal workforce does," said Government Employees Director Paul O'Connor.
The FLRA oversees disputes between federal agencies and their employee unions. If confirmed by the Senate, Grundmann would serve as a member of the board and Rumsfeld would serve as general counsel.
Grundmann currently serves as the executive director and chief operating officer of the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, where she oversees the administrative dispute resolution process and provides education to both employing offices and labor unions that represent employees in the legislative branch. Prior to that post, she was general counsel to the National Federation of Federal Employees.
Rumsfeld, who began his career with the Department of Labor, is currently the chief counsel to Ernie DuBester, chairman of the FLRA. Rumsfeld previously served as assistant general counsel for operations and legal policy for the FLRA's Office of General Counsel, where he assisted in managing regional operations.
"We are excited to see President Biden announce such qualified picks to help lead this important agency," said American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley in a statement. "Kurt Rumsfeld's previous work with the authority will ensure he can hit the ground running as he assumes the office of general counsel."
With Biden's picks confirmed, the FLRA could begin reversing the barrage of anti-union actions from the previous administration, including a 2020 rule allowing federal employees to opt out of union membership and paying dues at any time rather than during the annual window currently offered to them. There's also a mounting backlog of unresolved cases because of vacancies dating back to 2017.
"The new board definitely has its work cut out for them, but with their wealth of experience I'm confident they can start to turn things around and get the FLRA working for our members and other federal workers instead of at their expense," O'Connor said.
Biden's FLRA nominees are part of a larger trend of filling federal vacancies with pro-worker advocates. In August he announced his picks for the FLRA's Federal Service Impasses Panel. The FSIP acts as an arbiter on contract issues between unions and federal agencies. Under the previous administration, the panel consistently ruled in favor of anti-union labor practices based on then-President Donald Trump's 2018 executive orders restricting collective bargaining and making it easier to fire federal employees. Less than a month into his presidency, Biden called for the resignation of all 10 members of the FSIP.
Biden's list of appointees, who do not require Senate confirmation, include a number with strong labor bona fides. Martin Malin, who will serve as chair, previously served on the panel during the Obama administration. Another pick, Howard Friedman, is a former president of a chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union. Mark G. Pearce previously served as a member and chair of the NLRB, and Wynter P. Allen was an attorney for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
"During the previous administration, the FSIP was often hostile toward the role unions play in federal government operations and issued an overwhelming majority of opinions that favored management. The FSIP was in dire need of objective labor relations professionals and this new list of appointees meets that standard," NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement.
In July, the Senate confirmed Jennifer Abruzzo as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. Abruzzo comes from the Communication Workers of America and had earlier stints at the NLRB. The Senate also confirmed labor lawyers Gwynne Wilcox and David Prouty to seats on the five-member board, giving it a pro-worker, Democratic majority.
"When functioning as intended by the statute, the FLRA and FSIP operate with the knowledge and understanding that labor organizations and collective bargaining in the civil service are in the public interest. The new FLRA and FSIP will uphold that foundational tenet," O'Connor said.