U.S. Supreme Court
BATF v. FLRA, 464 U.S. 89 (1983)
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms v.
Federal Labor Relations Authority
Argued October 11, 1983
Decided November 29, 1983
464 U.S. 89
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (Act) in 5 U.S.C. § 7131(a) (1982 ed.) requires federal agencies to grant to employees representing their union in collective bargaining with the agencies "official time . . . during the time the employee otherwise would be in a duty status." This allows the employee negotiators to be paid as if they were at work, whenever they bargain during hours when they would otherwise be on duty. The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), in an "Interpretation and Guidance" of general applicability, construed § 7131(a)'s grant of official time as also entitling employee negotiators to a per diem allowance and reimbursement for travel expenses incurred in connection with collective bargaining. In this case, the Court of Appeals enforced an FLRA order requiring petitioner federal agency to pay an employee union representative per diem and travel expenses in addition to his salary, finding the FLRA's interpretation of the statute "reasonably defensible."
Held: The FLRA's interpretation of § 7131(a) constitutes an "unauthorized assumption by [the] agency of [a] major policy decisio[n] properly made by Congress," American Ship Building Co. v. NLRB, 380 U. S. 300, 380 U. S. 318. Pp. 464 U. S. 96-108.
(a) While reviewing courts should uphold an agency's reasonable and defensible constructions of its enabling statute, they must not
"rubberstamp . . . administrative decisions that they deem inconsistent with a statutory mandate or that frustrate the congressional policy underlying a statute,"
(b) Here, there are no indications in the Act or its legislative history that Congress intended employee negotiators to be allowed per diem and travel expenses on the theory that they are engaged in Government business. The Act's declaration that collective bargaining contributes to efficient government and therefore serves the public interest does not reflect a dramatic departure from the principles which applied prior to passage of the Act pursuant to a program established by an Executive Order and under which employee negotiators had not been regarded as working for the Government. Nor do the specific provisions of the Act aimed at equalizing the positions of management and labor suggest that chanrobles.com-red
Congress intended employee negotiators to be treated as though they were "on the job" for all purposes. T he qualifying language of § 7131(a) under which the right to a salary is conferred only when "the employee otherwise would be in a duty status" strongly suggests that the employee negotiator is not considered in a duty status while engaged in collective bargaining, and thereby entitled to all of the normal forms of compensation. Pp. 464 U. S. 102-106.
(c) The FLRA's interpretation of § 7131(a) is not supported by the Travel Expense Act, 5 U.S.C. § 5702(a) (1982 ed.), which authorizes a per diem allowance for a federal employee "traveling on official business away from his designated post of duty." Neither Congress' declaration that collective bargaining is in the public interest nor its use of the term "official time" warrants the conclusion that employee negotiators are on "official business" of the Government. Pp. 464 U. S. 106-107.
62 F.2d 732, reversed.
BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.