Readers Speak Out: Politics, Unions and the Civil Service

Most readers are not influenced in their vote by union endorsements and think their political activities have a negative impact on the federal workforce.

Federal employee unions usually endorse Democrats for political office. A casual observer of the federal workforce may think the workforce of the federal government is of one mind on many political issues since the positions and statements of their elected representatives are generally very similar.

Since we are in a presidential election year, and politics is dominating the air waves, asked readers how they viewed the political activities by the unions that represent many of them.

As is often the case, we found readers to have strong opinions and little hesitation in expressing these views. And, from the overwhelming results of this poll, our hypothetical casual observer of the federal workforce would be surprised. The political statements and actions of the elected representatives of employees, which are frequently cited in the media, and the stated beliefs of a wide variety of individual federal workers, are not one and the same.

44% said they think the political activities of unions have a negative impact on the federal workforce. 25% thought the political activities have a positive impact and 26% said the unions’ activities had little or no impact.

On the issue of “Do the political positions taken by federal employee unions generally represent your views?”, 59% said that the positions taken by unions do not represent their views. 35% said the positions generally represent their views and 7% are undecided on the issue.

On the issue of whether the public sees a distinction between the political views of the federal workforce and the politicical positions taken by federal employee unions, 67% said the public does not see a distinction. 20% think the public does see a distinction and 13% are undecided.

Finally, with federal employee unions strongly supporting John Kerry in his bid to become president, we asked if the union endorsement made a difference. 83% said the endorsement does not impact their decision. 16% said it does impact their decision and 1% of readers responding were undecided.

Some readers feel strongly about this issue and a number of readers commented on the distinction between the political goals or beliefs of union leaders and those of most employees.

For example, an administrative contracting officer with DCMA in Smyrna, GA wrote: “I have never supported the political position of any union of federal employees. I believe the union should be neutral and cast there (sic) support behind the candidate that appears to support the union’s membership’s best interests, not the union “leadership”. Political differences is (sic) the primary reason I have not joined any union.”

A management analyst with the Marine Corps in Hawaii says: “I believe most people are being misled when a candidate is endorsed by a union. Simply because most union members (your every day Joe) views are not the same as the union LEADERSHIP. . . ”

A screener with the TSA in Ontario, CA commented: “The liberal leanings of the unions have tainted their ability to speak objectively. They look at the taxpayer as an ATM without restrictions. Their ‘demands’ fly in the face of employees grateful to have a job.”

A labor relations specialist from DHS in Dallas had this overall sentiment: “Labor Unions nearly exclusively support democratic candidates whereas the membership of Labor Unions is often a mix of Republicans and Democrats. The Labor Unions rarely, if ever, poll their membership to give the members a voice in who will be supported in an election year. And the Labor Unions use the dues paid by the members to provide financial backing to these candidates. It seems to me that it should be illegal for the Labor Unions to operate in this manner. ”

A Forest Service employee from Oregon had this to say: “Federal employee unions are like all the other unions which is very left liberal. They do not represent the employees on political matters and have changed from representing the employees to having a liberal agenda. I am voting for President Bush, as well as many, many other federal employees. Unions do not represent employees in elections.”

Comments from readers in support of union’s political activities generally followed this line of thought submitted by an employee of the SSA in Gainesville, FL: “Federal employee unions are our last hope against the vicious attacks on the merit civil service system. If we and our unions fail, government workers will return to conditions as the (sic) existed before Theodore Roosevelt.”

A supply technician from the VA in Dayton, OH says “The Unions are the only ones that will bring up topics that relate directly to the average civil servant. They will voice issues like outsourcing, downsizing and benefits when no one else will. ”

On the subject of whether the endorsement of unions influences their vote, a number of readers’ comments were along the lines of this attorney from the FDIC: “I should join my union and pay dues but the idea of my money going to support Kerry is absolutely offensive to me. ”

An engineer with DoD from California commented: “The union stand on issues usually shows me how NOT to vote.”

A project manager with HUD voiced this opinion: “This is likely the most important election in my life time. I absolutely refuse to be either a sheep or a lemming taking a stroll off the cliff. Being a single issue voter is a dangerous mold in which to find oneself… Vote with your head not as a subject to any union!”

An intelligence analyst with the Army in Arlington, VA had this comment: “Unions blindly support whoever is running on the Democrat ticket. They don’t weigh all the issues affecting union members in order to lend their support to the best candidate. ”

Several border patrol employees sent in comments such as this one from Yuma, AZ: “I will vote for the candidate that wants a safer america. I refuse to vote for a candidate that is more interested in winning the popular vote of corrupt federal union officials. ”

And, in a lengthy submission, here is a partial comment from one SSA employee and what he or she thinks about federal employee unions and politics: “No one in the labor leadership ever asked me as a Union member (and yes, even though I’m in management, I still have a union membership) to whom the organization should provide an endorsement. If they ever did, I think they’d find out they are out of touch with the membership on party endorsement in general (as well as a number of other issues – but that’s beyond the scope of this discussion.) The original spirit of the AFL-CIO was to vote the candidate, not the party, who best represented labor interests. When did labor become so subserviant (sic) to the Democratic Party? It seems the Democrats tell labor what to do, not the other way around.”

But several readers went along with comments similar to this sentiment from an Administrative Law Judge with the Office of Hearings and Appeals in Ft. Smith, Arkansas: “Unions save the average employee. I would take a chance on Kerry, because we all know that Bush does not like labor unions and he does everything against federal employees.”

Thanks to all of our readers who took the time to send in their opinions and comments.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47