Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA), established into law a system for Federal employees to form, join, or assist any labor organization, or refrain from any such activity, freely and without fear of penalty or reprisal. Once formed, these labor organizations exclusively represent the bargaining unit employees in all matters affecting their working conditions. This portion of the CSRA U.S. Code (Chapter 71 of Title 5 of the U.S. Code) is referred to as the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute).
The bargaining unit is a group of employees with common interests who are represented by a labor union in their dealings with agency management. Prior to an election, representatives from management, the union and the Federal Labor Relations Authority meet to define the scope of the unit. One factor in defining the scope of the unit is that it must ensure employees the fullest freedom in exercising the rights guaranteed under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute. Further, a unit will only be considered appropriate if it will ensure a clear and identifiable community of interest among the employees in the unit and will promote effective dealings with, and efficiency of the operations of, the agency involved.
Bargaining unit status (that is, whether the position is in or out of the unit) pertains solely to the employee's position in the agency -- it does not take into consideration whether the employee is a dues paying union member. As such, these are two distinct groups. Bargaining unit members are employees whose positions are included in the defined bargaining unit while union members are employees that pay dues to the labor organization. (Automatic payroll deduction of dues is commonly referred to as dues withholding.) Only employees within the bargaining unit can have automatic dues withholding.
Employees may elect to join the local union and pay dues either through direct payment to the union or through automatic dues withholding. While all employees covered by the bargaining unit are bargaining unit members, only those employees who pay dues to the union are union members. Once a union has been certified as the exclusive representative, though, it must represent all bargaining unit members equally, regardless of their union membership. As such, when the union and management negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, its terms and conditions cover all employees in the bargaining unit irrespective of their union membership.
There are, however, limited situations where the union can favor union members over non-members by offering certain services to only dues paying members. In these instances, though, the services are not related to the union’s role as exclusive representative, e.g., where an employee can have only the union as its representative. An example where the union can favor dues paying members over non-dues paying members is offering the services of a tax attorney to only dues paying union members.
The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute specifically excludes certain positions from bargaining unit coverage. Individuals employed as supervisors, management officials, confidential employees (with respect to labor management relations), employees engaged in personnel work in other than a purely clerical capacity, employees engaged in administering the labor relations statute, employees engaged in intelligence, counterintelligence, investigative or security work which directly affects national security and employees primarily engaged in investigation or audit functions relating to the work of individuals employed by the agency whose duties directly affect the internal security of the agency cannot be included in a Federal sector bargaining unit. These individuals cannot be represented by unions and their conditions of employment can be unilaterally set by management.