The Federal Service Labor-management Relations Statute provides that an agency shall recognize a labor organization as the exclusive representative of employees in a bargaining unit, if that organization has been selected as the representative by a majority of the unit's employees who voted in a secret ballot election. Where an election is scheduled, employees identified for inclusion in the unit will be able to choose from the union(s) seeking exclusive recognition or "No Union". As an example, if the proposed bargaining unit consists of 1,500 employees, and only 100 employees vote, then the decision of the majority of the 100 employees voting will determine the outcome for the entire 1,500 member bargaining unit. When there is more than one union on the ballot and none receive a majority of the votes cast, a runoff election is held with the two highest vote getters.
In order for a union to represent employees, it must first file a petition with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (the Authority or FLRA). That petition must establish:
- A showing of interest (usually by a signed statement), by at least 30% of the employees in the proposed unit, that they wish to be represented by the union.
- That the unit is appropriate.
To be appropriate, a unit must:
- Insure a clear and identifiable community of interest among unit employees
- Promote effective dealings with the agency
- Promote the efficiency of agency operations
Employees already represented by a union may petition the FLRA to be represented by another union or to become unrepresented. A petition must be filed with signatures of at least 30% of the employees in the unit asserting that the exclusive representative is no longer the representative of a majority of unit employees. In such a case, and provided that at least one year has elapsed since a representation election was conducted, the FLRA will hold an election and representation (or lack thereof) will be determined by a majority of the ballots cast. A negotiated agreement between labor and management bars another union from seeking to represent the bargaining unit until shortly before the expiration of the existing negotiated agreement. At that time (not more than 105 or less than 60 days prior to the expiration of an agreement of 3 years or less), the FLRA will consider a petition timely if filed by a rival union.
In addition to determining questions of representation, petitions may be filed to amend or clarify the description of a bargaining unit (e.g., if a reorganization changes the name of the activity), to consolidate two or more bargaining units, or to determine if individual employees should be included or excluded from the bargaining unit. It is strongly recommended that activities file these later types of petition upon any organizational changes that impact on the bargaining unit's definition. Such actions are typically handled by the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center (CPAC.)