The General Counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), Joseph Swerdzewski, today announced that a new bench decision procedure provided in revised unfair labor practice (ULP) regulations issued in October 1997, has resulted in quicker ULP decisions. Over the past year there have been three bench decisions issued by FLRA Administrative Law Judges.
Under the bench decision process, an FLRA Administrative Law Judge makes a decision on whether an unfair labor practice has been committed immediately after the presentation of the evidence at a hearing. The parties to a ULP hearing may jointly request the Judge to issue an oral bench decision at the close of the hearing. In requesting a bench decision, both the Office of General Counsel and the party defending against the unfair labor practice complaint waive their right to file a post-hearing brief with the Judge. If the Judge, relying on judicial discretion, grants the request, the Judge renders an oral decision at the hearing. The decision is then transcribed and becomes the Judge's written decision which is transmitted to the Authority and served on the parties. The parties may file an appeal to the decision.
Praising the new process, General Counsel Swerdzewski noted, "When the parties are unable to resolve their dispute and litigation is necessary, the bench decision provides a valuable tool to expedite the decision process. Rather than wait for the filing of post-hearing briefs and issuance of the Judge's written decision, the parties learn of the Judge's decision at close of the hearing after all the evidence is presented. This new approach to litigation allows all parties to receive a quick Judge's decision and to timely reevaluate whether it is in their interest to invest further resources to pursue the litigation or to allow the Judge's decision to be adopted by the Authority without precedential significance." The General Counsel further stated, "With the recent increase in ULP litigation, the bench decision process can greatly speed up decision making. I encourage its use." In the fiscal year that ended September 30, 1999, the number of complaints issued by FLRA Regional Directors increased by 21.5% over the prior fiscal year. For this same period, the number of ULP hearings held before Administrative Law Judges rose by 35%.
The effectiveness of the new process is seen in the most recent bench decision. In that matter, the Judge found that an agency violated the Statute by failing to abide by an arbitrator's decision ordering that an arbitration hearing be held off the agency's premises so that the union president, who had been barred from the premises, could participate. The parties' decision to use the bench decision process affords them the opportunity to now hold the arbitration and to avoid any future violations.
The FLRA is an independent agency that administers the labor-management relations program for 1.9 million federal employees worldwide, 1.1 million of whom are exclusively represented in more than 2,200 bargaining units. The Office of the General Counsel is the independent investigative and prosecutorial component of the FLRA which processes unfair labor practice charges and representation petitions through the Regional Offices, and assists parties in improving their labor-management relationship. The General Counsel periodically issues Guidance to the Regional Directors to provide leadership in promoting productive labor-management relationships in the Federal sector and Manuals that explain the Office of the General Counsel's policies and procedures for processing cases that are filed under its jurisdiction. The General Counsel directs the FLRA's seven Regional Offices located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
The recently issued Office of the General Counsel Unfair Labor Practice Manual, and other General Counsel issuances, are available on the FLRA Web Site, www.flra.gov. Questions or comments concerning the Office of the General Counsel should be directed to FLRA Deputy General Counsel David Feder at (202) 482-6680, extension 203.