Federal Employees v. Department of Interior, 526 U.S. 86, 12 (1999)

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86

OCTOBER TERM, 1998

Syllabus

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES, LOCAL 1309 v. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 97-1184. Argued November 9, 1998—Decided March 3, 1999*

As relevant here, the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute) requires federal agencies and their employees' unions to "meet and negotiate in good faith for the purposes of arriving at a collective bargaining agreement," 5 U. S. C. 7114(a)(4); and creates the Federal Labor Relations Authority, giving it broad adjudicatory, policymaking, and rulemaking powers to implement the Statute, 7104, 7105. The Authority initially held that 7114(a)(4)'s good-faith-bargaining requirement does not extend to union-initiated proposals during the term of the basic contract. The D. C. Circuit disagreed, and in response, the Authority reversed its position. In this suit, a federal employees' union proposed including in its basic contract with a subagency of the Department of the Interior (Agency) a provision obligating the Agency to negotiate, at the union's request, about midterm matters not in the original contract. Relying on the Fourth Circuit's view that union-initiated midterm bargaining is inconsistent with the Statute, the Agency refused to accept, or bargain about, the proposed clause. However, the Authority ordered the Agency to bargain. The Fourth Circuit set aside that order, holding that the Statute prohibits such a provision.

Held: The Statute delegates to the Authority the legal power to determine whether parties must engage in midterm bargaining or bargaining about midterm bargaining. Pp. 91-101.

(a) The Statute itself does not resolve the midterm bargaining question. Section 7114(a)(4)'s language is sufficiently ambiguous or open on the point as to require judicial deference to reasonable interpretation or elaboration by the agency charged with the Statute's execution. Such ambiguity is inconsistent both with the Fourth Circuit's absolute reading that the Statute prohibits midterm bargaining and with the D. C. Circuit's similarly absolute, but opposite, reading. It is perfectly consistent, however, with the conclusion that Congress delegated to the

*Together with No. 97-1243, Federal Labor Relations Authority v. Department of the Interior et al., also on certiorari to the same court.

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