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Biden removes all 10 members of powerful federal labor board

AFGE praises firing of ‘transparently biased union-busters,’ including Freedom Foundation’s Nelsen


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 4, 2021) — All ten of the Trump-appointed members of a powerful federal labor board — including Maxford Nelsen of the Olympia, Wash.-based Freedom Foundation — were removed from their positions this week in a move one union leader said would “restore basic fairness” to contract negotiations between federal government agencies and their employees.

On Tuesday it was announced that President Joe Biden removed every member of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), the arm of the Federal Labor Relations Authority tasked with resolving disputes between unions and federal agencies when they reach impasse during negotiations. Among other things, the FSIP has the power to impose binding contract terms on federal labor unions and their members, and has repeatedly attempted to do so during the Trump administration.

Reuters reports that eight of the FSIP members resigned voluntarily and the other two were fired after they refused to do so. FSIP members are appointed by the White House and serve at the pleasure of the president; they don’t require Senate confirmation and don’t have defined terms.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 700,000 federal government workers, praised Biden’s move.

“Our union extend our heartfelt thanks to President Biden for taking swift action to remove the current panel members and restore basic fairness for federal workers,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley. “The outgoing panel, appointed by the previous administration and stacked with transparently biased union-busters, was notorious for ignoring the law to gut workplace rights and further an extreme political agenda.”

One of those “transparently biased union-busters” was Nelsen, who was appointed to the FSIP in October 2019 while he maintained his position as “Labor Policy Director” at the Freedom Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to defunding and legally harassing unions. The group spends millions of dollars every year — much of it contributed by anti-union billionaire industrialists like the Koch brothers — suing unions and trying to convince their members to quit. During the pandemic, the foundation has also spent considerable time opposing COVID-19 public safety requirements and providing legal services to employers that defy Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 restrictions. (Learn more about the Freedom Foundation.)

The FSIP is supposed to find common ground between federal agencies and their employees’ unions to further the government’s official policy of promoting “collective bargaining in the civil service” and encouraging “the amicable settlements of disputes.” That wasn’t happening with the Trump-appointed FSIP, as Slate reports:

Trump’s appointees consistently defied the panel’s legal obligations to remain a neutral arbiter. Instead, they displayed a clear pattern of siding with management and sometimes even imposed harsher terms than management requested. In an unprecedented and radical move, the panel even imposed terms that management did not request at all, like extending the length of an unfavorable contract. In other words, it functioned as intended: Trump stacked the panel with deeply ideological conservatives with extensive experience busting unions.

Last year, AFGE sued the FSIP arguing that Nelsen and other Trump-appointed members “do not meet the fitness requirements required by the Civil Service Reform Act” and because their “anti-union activities creates a bias that deprives unions of due process under the U.S. Constitution.” The union said FSIP was being abused by the Trump-appointed members in “an attempt to force anti-employee policies into union contracts.”

AFGE’s lawsuit over the legitimacy of FSIP appointees and their unfair bias against unions had temporarily protected many of its members from having negative contract terms imposed upon them by the FSIP. For example, in November FSIP tried to force a contract upon AFGE’s 265,000 Veterans Affairs members that would have, among other things, abolished its Health and Safety clause (during a pandemic), eviscerated Equal Employment Opportunity provisions, disallowed all union-representation time, ended labor-management training, and locked those changes in for an extraordinary seven-year contract term.

“FSIP is a critical component in the federal negotiating process, and we look forward to President Biden’s future picks issuing just decisions, unencumbered by political interference,” AFGE’s Kelley said.


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