Federal Union Fiddles as Federal Employees Furloughed?

By • May 20, 2013

After hearing that a high level political appointee was approving attendance of a number of union officials on the clock and on paid travel to vacation resorts, I trolled the American Federation of Government Employees’ website for this year’s training and conference events.  Attendance at these events may be approved by a friendly management or under a labor agreement with an Agency and includes not only attendance but frequently (thanks to the Federal Labor Relations Authority decisions) government paid travel and per diem.

The following currently appears on the AFGE Headquarters website:

National Leadership Meeting
Orlando, FL
September 23–27, 2013

The NEC has called for a special National Leadership Meeting to develop a unified vision, strategies and actions to protect our members’ interests.

The environment has grown increasingly hostile for our own members and our union. What has worked in the past will no longer be sufficient to be successful in the near future. And we want to continue to be successful. Our time is short.

We hope the majority of Locals will send one to three representatives, along with the NEC, Bargaining Councils, HRC members, DEFCON, Firefighters, Law Enforcement, Nurses, HISCO, etc. You can select who attends. No formal notices or elections are required, but pre-registration is required. (MY EMPHASIS)

And:

National Leadership Meeting
September 23-27, 2013 – Orlando, FL

Discount Disney Tickets (Buy before Sep 20)

Disney has made available special tickets to their theme parks for conference attendees. (MY EMPHASIS)

Available theme park tickets through this discount include:

  • Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
  • Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park
  • DisneyQuest® Indoor Interactive Theme Park
  • ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex with 30 minutes of game play at the PlayStation® Pavilion
  • Disney’s Winter Summerland or Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Courses (before 4 p.m.)
  • A round of golf at Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course

Tickets will be available for purchase online until September 20, so purchase your tickets early! (MY EMPHASIS)

The Hotel, by the way is the Lake Buena Vista Resort which claims on its website:

“Orlando, Florida is the ultimate getaway. Whether you’re single, married or with a family, there are plenty of things to do in Orlando. Spend your days at one of the many infamous theme parks or spend your time indoors indulging in a shopping spree! If that is all too much hustle and bustle, you can take it easy and tee off in one of the 170 odd golf courses in the region! Either way, there are too many things to do in Orlando not to have a fantastic and unforgettable holiday!” (MY EMPHASIS)

AFGE has hundreds of Locals around the country.  Most, if not all, have contracts or at least friendly political appointees that grant official time as well as pay travel and per diem for these folks to attend this “training”.

More AFGE Training Opportunities

AFGE District 2’s May get together is listed on its website as the Sea Crest Hotel in N. Falmouth MA.  The Hotel website calls it the sea Crest BEACH Hotel. (MY EMPHASIS) What does this resort say about itself?

“In today’s fast-paced culture, it sometimes seems difficult to appreciate the little things in life. Now is your chance to recapture these simple pleasures. Easily reached by both land and air, Sea Crest Beach Hotel provides a new look and personality that is light and airy, with a playful atmosphere and staff. Just minutes over the Bourne or Sagamore bridges, the Sea Crest Beach Hotel provides the perfect backdrop for business, and an equally alluring backdrop for a peaceful Cape Cod escape. (MY EMPHASIS)

AFGE District 5 May gathering is at the Sheraton Birmingham AL.  The union’s notice includes the following:

“This year will be a very special meeting. We are asking that you bring your family members with you to the convention.  We will make sure we set aside some special time for family.  This resort is located next to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the McWane Science Center, the Botanical and Japanese Gardens, the Birmingham Zoo, the Alabama Theatre, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, Riverchase Galleria Shopping Mall and an outlet shopping mall 20 minutes.  Any cost associated with the tours will be at your expense.” (MY EMPHASIS)

Four of AFGE’s Districts in the Midwest are meeting in Spearfish, South Dakota May 20th through the 24th.  What’s near Spearfish? Mount Rushmore and a variety of fun to be had.  The Conference Center Hotel’s website says:

“The hotel’s location near historic Deadwood enables you to go for the jackpot at 82 casinos or pan for gold at Broken Boot Mine. You can feed the fish at the DC Booth Historic Fish at the DC Booth Historic Fish Hatchery, snowmobile in Black Hills National Forest or ski at Terry Peak. Day trips to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial are other favorites, as is rock climbing at the striking Devils Tower.” (MY EMPHASIS)

District 9 is offering a June conference at Camden on the Lake resort  at the Lake of the Ozarks.  If you can’t get in there, you’ll stay at the Four Seasons Resort nearby.  On the Agenda is a Welcome Party, a Lake Cruise and Movie night.  Their announcement, not mine.

Districts 6, 10, and 12 will be hosting a Multi-District Training Seminar from August 4-8, 2008, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the hotel website:

“Explore the best of New Orleans from the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel. Unwind in a comfortable guest room with WiFi, a 37-inch flat-screen TV and a mini-refrigerator. Upgrade to a deluxe room and absorb views over the Mississippi River or the bustling French Quarter. Choose an executive room and enjoy Executive Lounge access with complimentary breakfast and evening appetizers.  Gather with colleagues over cocktails at the lively Spirits bar before heading across the street for a vibrant night out at Harrah’s Casino. Savor local specialties at Drago’s Seafood, a popular New Orleans restaurant. “(MY EMPHASIS)

District 11’s training is to be held in two locations, the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado and the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver Washington.  If you go to Beaver Run, it’s a ski resort with lots of outdoor activities.  It’s brochure tells you:

“On a stroll through town, Breckenridge Colorado’s mining heritage comes to life in the storybook architecture and Victorian flair that is truly one-of-a-kind.  Shops, outfitters, soda fountains, galleries, cafes and restaurants line the sidewalks. It’s a rainbow of colorful things to see and do. And there is no shortage of town festivals and events to share in every season of the year.”

If you go to Vancouver, the hotel promises:

“Reinvigorate in the hotel indoor lap pool and whirlpool after a workout in the fully equipped fitness center, a complimentary feature of this stylish Vancouver, Washington hotel. Sample contemporary Northwest cuisine in Gray’s at the Park or recharge with a coffee at Esther’s Coffee Bar located on property. Spend the day in downtown Vancouver and take a stroll along the nearby promenade which runs parallel to the Columbia River. Spend time browsing the wares in the local boutiques, shops and galleries” 

What is All of This Costing Taxpayers and Furloughed Employees?

If an average Federal employee is a GS-11 and assuming a geo pay from say, Philadelphia, the rate is $33.26 per hour.  Add to that about 40% overhead (typical figure) and you get $46.56.  A furlough day for one of these folks arguably and at most saves Uncle Sam $372.48.  A union training day costs the same as no mission work gets done.  If you include any travel and per diem to the mix for the union attendees, the cost per day goes up.  If the money was not spent on the union training, a critical question is how many Feds would go unfurloughed especially when you consider that any cost is more than doubled by the folks who attend both the district and national training conferences.  You run the numbers, you’ll find that every union training day equals up to three furlough days depending on travel , hotel, and meal costs.

What is AFGE Thinking?

Is it just me, but do you find it hard to believe that the Federal government’s largest union is holding conferences at resort locations and advertising a party atmosphere when represented employees are being furloughed and Agencies have drastically cut mission related training to help avoid furloughs?  Puts the question to the union’s priorities and the seriousness of  anti-furlough rhetoric.

This goes way beyond bad PR and indicates an insensitivity belied by J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, who issued the following statement on May 14 of this year in reaction to the Department of Defense’s plan to furlough civilian federal employees.   He said:

“The administration’s latest furlough announcement, 11 days for Department of Defense civilians, is absolutely outrageous. It is well-known that the Army spent $2.5 billion more on service contracts than it was allowed under law, a sum that could have been, and more important, should have been used to offset furloughs not only in the Army, but in the rest of DOD as well. “

I wonder if he scans his own websites from time to time or is, himself, happy to attend conferences with a “playful attitude and staff” (see above).  Maybe AFGE should forego official time and paid travel while Federal employees’ pay is frozen and many Agencies are planning or carrying out furloughs.

The Washington Post “Federal Eye” on 08/01/2012 had the headline: “GSA IG looking into 77 conferences held between October 2010 and April 2012”.  Some might ask whether IGs in this administration have the courage to address this issue asking who approved what and why.

No opinions above, just facts and questions.

Based on discussions with some Agencies, and sponsored by RGS, I and some colleagues plan to offer a “Practitioner’s Course in Labor Relations” and a “Practitioner’s Course in Employee Relations” focusing on advising managers, using proven tools to enhance case management, and matters of interest to the specialist, advocate or attorney with a basic grounding in these programs. We plan to offer these around the country and in D.C. If you have an interest in learning more, please let me know. You can do so using the “contact” link at the bottom of this article. RGS has also given us the go ahead to do an update for practitioners this spring in the D.C. area. I’ll follow up with more information as arrangements firm up.

© 2014 Robert J. Gilson. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Robert J. 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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