Unfair Labor Practices - Overview

An unfair labor practice (ULP) is normally a violation of the
Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute), 5 USC Chapter 71. A grievance on the other hand, addresses a violation or interpretation of the parties' negotiated agreement.

Anyone can file a ULP charge -- an individual, an employee, the union or management. The respondent to the charges, though, will always be either management or the union. The vast majority of ULP charges are filed by the union against management. The reason for this is that management is usually the party which takes the actions. Management takes the disciplinary actions, it reorganizes, it makes changes to conditions of employment, etc. When it does so in violation of the Statute, it commits a ULP. The most common ULP charge alleges that management failed to bargain in good faith, generally for not advising the union of proposed changes to conditions of employment and unilaterally implementing the changes.

Unfair labor practice charges are filed with the General Counsel of the Federal Labor Relations (FLRA). The General Counsel investigates the charge to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant issuing a complaint. If a complaint is issued, a hearing is set and the parties go before an adminstrative law judge (ALJ) with the General Counsel prosecuting. The ALJ will issue a decision either finding that a ULP was committed or dismissing the complaint. If either party is dissatisfied with the ALJ's decision, the case can be appealed to the FLRA.

Throughout all the above steps, efforts should be undertaken to resolve the dispute informally, either through local efforts or with the assistance of the General Counsel. The General Counsel and the FLRA have indicated that they will take all necessary steps to assist the parties in informally resolving ULP charges and related disagreements.

If the agency is found to have committed a ULP, various remedies can be assigned. The most common is a posting, signed by the Commander (regardless of which supervisor in the activity committed the ULP), stating that he or she committed a ULP and that he or she won't do it again. Another remedy issued by the FLRA is a reversal of the management action that caused the ULP. For example, if management realigns an office without giving the union an opportunity to bargain, a ULP remedy may be to reverse the realignment and require management bargain with the union before it could implement the realignment. . This is called a status quo ante remedy. Tied into the status quo ante remedy can be a make whole order with back pay. If the realignment discussed above resulted in employees losing pay or allowances (e.g. differentials or consistent overtime opportunities), the ULP remedy may include back pay for these employees.

As stated above, it is in everyone's best interest to settle an alleged ULP as soon as possible and at the lowest possible level. Even once the union files a ULP charge, there are still plenty of opportunities to settle the dispute. In fact, the General Counsel will continually offer its services in this area. It probably is a good idea to take them up on their offer.

Most ULPs can be avoided by a general understanding of the statutory rights of the parties and by fostering a positive labor-management relationship. In this regard, consideration should be given to negotiating a ULP "cooling off" period in the parties' negotiated agreement. This type of contract provision provides that a party intending to file a ULP charge inform the other party of their intent a certain period of time, e.g., 15 days, prior to the filing of the charge. During this "cooling off" period, the parties are expected to review, and hopefully resolve, the potential ULP charge.

Content last reviewed: 11/15/2016-DAH