The President’s View: Get to Know Our Contract

Everyone has important documents in their lives: birth certificate, marriage license, deed to your home. And when you think of important legal documents, these are what come to mind.

There is another document that is just as important: your NTEU contract.

It is often said that your union contract is the MOST important document in your working life and I must agree. It is a binding legal document that outlines your rights as an employee and restrictions on what managers can do. It puts in place programs that directly impact you such as telework and alternative work schedules. It includes language on performance measures so you can challenge reviews you believe are unfair and so much more.

Your NTEU contract is a living, breathing document. It was negotiated by NTEU members with real frontline experience. They build on what was already in the document, change it to respond to new congressionally-approved programs and tweak it when the language for an existing provision wasn’t completely clear.

Some contracts are the result of decades of work. Many of the rights and benefits that surround you each day, and that have been there since you first became a federal employee, did not always exist. And, they were not willingly created by management. Instead, they were bargained into place and NTEU has fought hard to keep them and improve them.

At the bargaining table NTEU chapter presidents devote days and weeks of their time. They bring practical experience to the discussions, shooting down management proposals that do not reflect your workplace reality and pushing back against attempts to dilute rights and programs already in place. The NTEU bargaining teams are tough but sensible. They get the best agreement that can possibly be put on paper. They are formidable teams.

The work on a bargaining agreement does not stop when the negotiating is complete. Now it must come to life in your workplaces. NTEU chapter officers and stewards are trained on the contract. Highlights of the agreement and new programs and benefits are rolled out to bargaining unit employees. I am sure you have seen that NTEU members are better informed than nearly anyone else in the workplace – managers included.

The contract is a legally binding document and your rights are enforceable. Should a violation of the contract, or federal law, occur, NTEU will fight back. That ability to challenge decisions and practices that contradict language in the agreement is why your contract is so important. It has the force of law.

Sometimes those fights take years but we never give up. Late last year, we settled a number of grievances over contract violations at Customs and Boarder Protection for $200 million in back pay and comp time. We have won transit subsidy settlements at several agencies putting money back into employees’ hands. We fight violations of telework requests, handle leave issues and work to right unfair performance evaluations.

Our ability to successfully take on those issues circles back to what we achieve at the bargaining table. So what influences negotiations? How do we get the best outcome possible?

Our years of experience helps, as does a deep understanding of federal labor law. A willingness to push the envelope and propose new programs and different way of doing things plays a part. The insight and determination of chapter leaders who make up the team is important but your support is critical as well. When negotiations begin, the management team knows how many bargaining unit members have joined NTEU. They know whether we are speaking for the entire workforce or not. The more members, the stronger our voice and the more we can get done through the contract.

Bargaining is always happening, from your term agreement to midterm bargaining, to side agreements on issues that pop up. Every bargaining session is approached with the same belief: that federal employees deserve transparency in workplace practices and policies and that management needs to be accountable for its decisions.

As you go through your workday, take a moment to remember how your day is improved because of your contract and the role your membership in NTEU played in putting that contract in place.