The nation’s largest federal employee union has blocked the U.S. Air Force from implementing basic fitness standards for civilian police officers at Joint Base Andrews, home to Air Force One.
The 1401 Chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) objected to new fitness standards ordered by the Department of Defense (DOD) in April 2012 because base officials did not consult the labor group before implementing the rule. The chapter comprises a small portion of the union’s 600,000 national members and represents police officers on the base.
The union challenged the base in front of an arbitrator and claimed the new standards represented a "change in working conditions." Such a change would subject the provision to collective bargaining. Base officials offered to take union proposals under consideration, but refused to bargain on the Pentagon order.
"[The order] is a Department of Defense wide regulation which [is not] subject to bargaining with this [u]nion," the Air Force said.
The arbitrator affirmed that the Air Force’s 11th Wing, which manages base operations including security, did not have to consult the union before implementing orders that came from the Defense Department.
The union appealed to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), an independent arbiter akin to the National Labor Relations Board that attempts to settle labor disputes for federal employers and employees. FLRA Chairwoman Carol Waller Pope and former AFL-CIO attorney Ernest DuBester found in favor of the union and sent the issue back into arbitration.
President Barack Obama appointed Pope and DuBester.
"An agency violates the [Civil Service Law] when it expressly refuses to negotiate over a matter within the duty to bargain," the FLRA ruling said. "An agency may not refuse to bargain merely because the matters…[are] subject to negotiations at a higher organizational level."
However, the Air Force appears to have consulted other federal employees unions before issuing the new standards. The Air Force negotiated the standards with the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), which told its members that it had been able to work with the military to implement the standards.
"Management has demonstrated a willingness to jointly work with Local Union Officials to develop, through Impact and Implementation Negotiations, a Fitness Program with Installation Fitness Personnel, if civilian Police Officers would like a more structured fitness program," the union’s April newsletter said.
"The Obama administration is very tied to the union movement, particularly the more liberal groups like the SEIU, so it’s no surprise that he’d work with them [over other groups]," said Steven Allen, a labor expert at the Capital Research Center.
The new plan will require police officers to perform 19 push-ups in two minutes—two fewer than its previous 21-push-up requirement—and eliminate the sit-up and 300-meter sprint examinations from the 2011 fitness test. The 17:30 cut-off for the mile-and-a-half run will remain unchanged.
The unions are fighting to preserve the three paid hours of exercise that civilian security personnel can use each week despite the weaker standards.
Several labor experts told the Washington Free Beacon the dispute is more about procedure than policy.
"That is not an uncommon thing for the union to challenge," said J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the labor watchdog Center for Union Facts. "When businesses unilaterally impose practices, even if they are reasonable, the union is going to demand negotiation even if they agree with it."
The issue is back in arbitration and it is unclear when the matter will be settled. A base spokesman declined to comment because of ongoing negotiations with the union. AFGE did not return multiple requests for comment.