Elections Have Consequences: Rebellion in the Ranks at NTEU

By on July 14, 2011 in Current Events with 25 Comments

Does anyone out there remember Vincent Connery?

Vince was
the national president of the National Treasury Employees Union until replaced by the union’s then General Counsel, Bob Tobias. Tobias held the job for about
20 years. After Vince’s departure, NTEU
gained a reputation for concentrating power in the national office and for requiring
all dues collected be sent to Washington DC and then parceled out to the
locals. 

I did a web search on
NTEU’s website and could find no mention of Vince, who passed away in 1991,
despite the presence of a history page. That page only mentions the current national
president and vice president. Even Bob
Tobias
, who has gone on to Academia, had only one name mention in a site search
that turned up an old (1999) press release about Al Gore. 

Apparently former presidents of the union
become non-persons after departing.  

The
NTEU history page in its number one bullet states that the union “Won $533 million in back
pay
 for federal employees when an
appeals court ruled against President Nixon’s 1972 pay raise deferral.”

As a side note and in contrast,
AFGE’s history page generally gives credit where due to prior leaders.

Current NTEU President Colleen
Kelly appears to be taking heat over the loss of TSA to NTEU’s
archrival, the American Federation of Government Employees, last month. 

It was a grudge match, you know. In the 1990’s, her predecessor allegedly
spent $8,000,000.00 trying to unseat AFGE at the Social Security Administration
and lost. John Gage, the current AFGE
national president, was then a local president of the headquarters SSA
union. Gage led the successful bid at
TSA by AFGE. There’s no telling what
NTEU spent on the failed TSA bid but apparently the loss provoked some
dissatisfaction in the ranks. According
to the “NTEU Contrarians” website, Ms. Kelly
is in hot water for allegedly selling NTEU’s HQ building without, they claim,
consulting the membership or the local union leaders not to mention the TSA
loss. According to the “Contrarians”
comment page, the union is facing a 500 arbitration case backlog because its
ubiquitous lawyers were out organizing TSA.

Interestingly enough, the Comments section on the ”Contrarians” site
carries this header: 

Anonymous Member Comments

(In order to
prevent retaliation from NTEU National Office leaders, all potential
identifying information is removed. As an aside, isn’t it a damning statement
on where we are at as a union when we have to worry about retaliation from
our own NTEU leaders?) Want to add your comments? Send an e-mail to:
nteu.contrarians@comcast.net

As an observer of Federal sector unions for the last 38 or so years, I
noticed the trend by their national offices to consolidate power. NTEU, according to insiders, has always
sought to have the national office hold the FLRA certification as exclusive
representative as opposed to locals or councils of locals. 

In recent years, AFGE has moved in
this direction as well. The key effects
are in regard to money power and direction. If dues are paid to the national union instead of locals, those locals
are beggars, not taxpayers, as used to be the predominant case at AFGE. “Follow the money” has become a synonymous
with tracking who calls the shots. 

If you follow the money at NTEU and AFGE, the trail leads right to the
top. If money=power, then Ms. Kelly and
Mr. Gage are certainly the principal power brokers among Federal labor unions,
calling shots in the President’s LMR Forums at the Cabinet level.  

With regard to union direction, I recently
posted articles about “model language” coming from AFGE. Agency Representatives have always known what
NTEU would put on the table by looking at the last set of proposals they made
at the last Agency they bargained with. 

The “Contrarians,” if concerned about locals having a greater voice, are
facing an uphill battle at NTEU. I’m
willing to bet that some of the larger AFGE locals or Councils may think twice
before giving up their certification to the national union after watching
what’s going on at NTEU.

There’s another dimension to all of this. By Federal labor law, if there’s no agreement
or upon expiration of an agreement, one union can challenge another. The bigger the bargaining unit, the less vulnerable that union becomes to a challenge by another union. So,
for example, if NTEU wanted to challenge AFGE at the Department of Veterans
Affairs, it would have to come up with over 30,000 names on a petition. AFGE has pretty much locked itself in at DVA
and as NTEU has done at the Internal Revenue Service.

Union
politics, particularly in the Federal sector, are usually very “behind closed
door” affairs. These “Contrarians” have
shined a little light on how things work in these organizations who claim to be
among the last bastions of true democracy. John Gage, in a union press release about Organizing at TSA said, “I am particularly proud of AFGE’s diversity, our union
democracy, and our bottom-up emphasis that keeps our rank-and-file members
first and foremost.”

“Union democracy and (our) bottom-up
emphasis?” True or false, you decide. 

If you read an opinion in any of
the above, it is mine and not that of Fedsmith or anyone else but me.  

© 2016 Bob Gilson. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Bob Gilson.

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About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.

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