Rights of Members of Federal Employee Unions

In 1959, Congress passed the Labor-Management Relations and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) to protect members of private sector unions. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) and the Foreign Service Act of 1980 establish a number of rights for members of unions representing federal employees. The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), a division of the Employment Standards Administration of the United States Department of Labor, is tasked with enforcing and administering these provisions, as well as those of the LMRDA.

Bill of Rights for Members of Unions Representing Federal Employees
Members of unions representing federal employees, with the exception of United States Postal Service employees, are protected by a so-called bill of rights established by the regulations implementing the CSRA. Postal Service employees are protected by the LMRDA, which also has a bill of rights.

The bill of rights for members of unions representing federal employees, which is very similar to the bill of rights found in the LMDRA, guarantees union members the following rights:

  • Equal rights to vote in union elections and to participate in union meetings
  • The freedom to assemble with other union members and to speak freely regarding views and opinions
  • The right to be free from an increase in member dues unless a majority of union members have approved the increase through a proper election
  • The right to a fair and full hearing before being subjected to any disciplinary action
  • The right to bring a proper legal action against the union for violations of the law
  • The protection from disciplinary action for exercising their rights under the law

Full access to any collective bargaining agreements entered into by the union

Enforcement of Rights
Members of unions representing federal employees are entitled to enforce their rights under the CSRA through the following channels:

(1) Members must first attempt to resolve any disputes or problems through internal union procedures. A protest or complaint, in accordance with the bylaws or constitution of the union, must first be filed.

(2) If internal action proves futile or if the union has not reached a decision on a protest within four months, the member may then file a formal complaint with the OLMS (this differs from the procedure established under the LMRDS, where members may directly file a federal civil action against the union). The complaint should include the facts establishing the alleged violations of the member’s rights under the CSRA. It should also request a specific remedy.

(3) The OLMS will investigate each complaint and determine whether there is a reasonable basis for the complaint. If reasonable cause is found, a hearing before a Department of Labor administrative law judge (ALJ) is held, and the member has the burden to prove the violation. OLMS does not have a role in the hearing. The aggrieved party, either the member or the union may file exceptions to the ALJ’s findings.

(4) The Department of Labor will then issue a decision determining whether the member’s rights were violated. If the DOL determines that there was a violation, it will take appropriate action to remedy the problem. If no violation is found, the action is dismissed.