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Home 9 Federal Legal Corner 9 Unionist’s Access to Agency System Upheld

Unionist’s Access to Agency System Upheld

In a case of first impression, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) upheld an arbitrator’s ruling that a retired local union president was entitled to continued access to certain aspects of the agency’s electronic communications system. Social Security Administration and AFGE Local 1760, 65 FLRA No. 110 (2/16/11). AFGE Local 1760 was represented before the FLRA by Edward H. Passman. He noted that the decision can provide an important benefit to a local union official who retires from his agency but wants to be able to continue to use the agency’s electronic system in his capacity as a union representative.

The arbitrator who heard the case decided that the union president was entitled to continue his access to the system, including the agency’s intranet and email as well as the system that tracks union officials’ use of official time. Citing provisions in the collective bargaining agreement, the arbitrator noted that the agency must notify the union electronically when proposing changes and the union president’s right to use the agency’s email system to communicate with employees in the local union. The arbitrator also noted that there is no prohibition on a retiree serving as union president, there was no evidence of any prior breach of security, and that the agency had permitted another retired union representative to continue using the system.

In its exceptions to the FLRA, the agency argued that the award was contrary to management’s right to determine its internal security practices, was in violation of the agency Handbook and Memorandum terminating employees’ access to the system when they retire, and fails to draw its essence from the union contract. The union countered that there was no violation of management’s right to determine its internal security practices as the agency failed to demonstrate a “link or reasonable connection” for its decision not to allow the union president limited access to the system, the agency applied its practice inconsistently, and the arbitrator appropriately interpreted the collective bargaining agreement.

The FLRA agreed with Mr. Passman’s contentions and dismissed the agency’s exceptions. In particular, the FLRA cited the arbitrator’s factual findings concerning internal security and found that the award does not fail to draw its essence from the parties’ agreements, incorporating the Handbook and Memorandum. Citing the arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract, the FLRA held that “the agency has not demonstrated that the arbitrator’s finding that the parties’ agreement entitles the president to continued, limited access to the system is irrational, unfounded, implausible, or a manifest disregard of the agreement.”

This important decision points out the substantial benefits which can be obtained by a union negotiating access to an agency electronic communications system.