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Human Resources and Organizational Management

Headquarters Marine Corps

Formal Discussions and the Union
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The union has the right to provided with advance notice of all such discussions and the right to be present at the discussion.
The Federal Labor Relations Statute grants a union the right to be represented at a formal discussion in order to represent the institutional interests of the union representative. The intent is that the union's presence and participation will enable the meeting to be successful and productive by, for example, asking questions to clarify the matters being discussed and avoiding misunderstandings.

In order a formal discussion right to exist, there must be:

  • A discussion;
  • Which is formal in nature;
  • Between at least one or more agency representatives and one or more unit employees or their representatives;
  • Concerning any grievance or personnel policy or practices or other general condition of employment.
No. A meeting is synonymous with a discussion so a meeting for the sole purpose of making a statement or announcement, rather than to engender dialogue, could be a formal discussion.
The purpose and nature of a discussion, as well as the manner in which the meeting was arranged and conducted, are factors considered when determining whether a discussion is formal in nature. Formality is distinguished from impromptu, on the job discussions, and discussions involving one employee and a supervisor about such matters as performance.
A representative of the agency must participate in a meeting with unit employees to trigger a union representational right.
To be a formal discussion, the meeting must concern either "any personnel policy or practices or other general condition of employment" or a "grievance."
"Any personnel policy or practices" are general rules applicable to agency personnel. A "general condition of employment" concerns conditions of employment affecting unit employees generally.
The term "grievance" for formal discussion purposes is defined in the federal labor relations statute as any complaint by an employee concerning any matter related to the employment of the employee.
No. To be considered a "grievance" for purposes of a formal discussion, the matter does not have to be subject to the negotiated grievance procedure.
No, it is not.
No, it is not.
Yes. The union must be given notice of the meeting.
Yes. A meeting that does not begin as a formal discussion, may nonetheless develop into or become a formal discussion once all of the elements have been met.
Yes. The meeting should be stopped until the union is notified and given an opportunity to be present. Alternatively, management (who controls the meeting) may determine not to discuss the subjects that are giving rise to the formal discussion right and continue the meeting.
In the links provided at the end of this document is a table taken from the Federal Labor Relations Authority guidance on formal meetings that should help in making decisions as to whether a meeting is formal or not.
The union, specifically the union president (or designee), must be given reasonable advance notice of the meeting. This is normally done in writing.
No. The union has the right to designate who will attend the meeting on behalf of the union.
Yes. If the union has been properly notified and does not appear at the meeting, it has waived the right to be represented and the meeting may be held without the union.
The right to be represented encompasses the opportunity to speak, comment and make statements, but it does not extend to taking charge of, usurping or disrupting the meeting.
An agency representative's role is to conduct the meeting and accomplish its purpose, whether it is to merely impart information to employees, give guidance or instructions, or obtain employee feedback on work- related issues. The union's role is to actively participate on behalf of the unit employees and present, as appropriate, its institutional perspective. The table below, taken from the Federal Labor Relations Authority guidance on formal meetings, addresses what unions may and may not do during formal discussions.
UNIONS CAN  UNIONS CANNOT 

Designate its own representative to attend the formal discussion

Ask management for a short delay so that a representative versed in the subject matter of the meeting may attend to represent the union 

Unreasonably delay the meeting because a particular representative is not able to attend at the scheduled time

Insist that more than one union representative attend

Ask management what the meeting is going to be about

Demand that all information to be discussed at the meeting first be discussed only with the union

Demand that other unrelated topics be added to the agenda

Clarify matters being discussed  Engage in an argument with the management officials conducting the meeting which interferes with the purpose of the meeting 
Represent the interests of the bargaining unit  Raise issues that are not related to the topic or purpose of the meeting so as to disrupt the meeting and thwart its purpose 
Speak, comment and make statements about the subject matter of the meeting  Take charge of the meeting so as to disrupt the meeting and thwart its purpose 
Ask questions concerning the matter being discussed  Act in a manner that disrupts the meeting  

The union may file an Unfair Labor Practice Charge (ULP) against the agency.
Links to References
    
FEDERAL LABOR RELATIONS STATUTE  
FEDERAL LABOR RELATIONS AUTHORITY FORMAL MEETING CHECKLIST