Can I Join This Union?

The author was researching an issue using Google and came upon a union website that had the best advice for representatives he’d ever seen. Judge for yourself.

I was researching an issue using Google and came upon the website for Local 1613, National Border Patrol Council that had the best advice for representatives I’ve ever seen. Those of you who read my scribblings know that I am frequently critical of the way Federal sector unions operate. After reading this advice to Local 1613’s new representatives, I’ve got to say that if they practice what they preach, I would like the opportunity to work with them.

If you explore the union’s site a little, you’ll notice that the President’s name isn’t broadcast all over it with great chest beating.  Instead, it’s a little hard to find his name.  Good for you, Chris Bauder. Judging from your website, you know it’s not about you but the people you represent.

You could take every one of the statements in this advice to the bank and build a truly productive relationship with the Agency.  My favorite line is the one that says” We are federal officers” with the clear understanding that that’s something to take seriously, be proud of and guide your conduct.

Here’s the advice:

Advice for New Local 1613 Reps

  • Always be honest. Never lie to or mislead anyone for any reason.  Once you compromise your integrity, you can’t get it back.
  • Never tell a union member to lie or intentionally mislead any authority.  We are federal officers; there is no excuse for lying.
  • Always act in a professional business like manner.  Conducting union business is just that: business.
  • Always be aware of a possible conflict of interest.  Union representatives should never represent themselves or any issues in which they may be personally involved in.
  • If a member asks you a question and you are unsure of the answer, be honest.  Tell him or her that you will find the right answer.
  • Do not place your trust blindly. Trustworthiness must be earned through consistent follow-through on commitments.
  • Take advantage of the knowledgeable, experienced people in the Union. They are very familiar with many of the situations you will encounter, and can save you the pains and troubles that often result from reinvention.
  • Surround yourself with all types of people, including those who disagree with your views. The consideration of different points of view is an important part of the decision-making process.
  • Confide only in those you feel you can trust. Remember that anything you say can come back to haunt you.
  • Do not make decisions in anger. Always seek a second opinion.
  • Be suspicious, but respectful of management; thoroughly analyze their possible motivation.
  • Remind employees that their statements and memos are frequently used against them, and to constantly be on their guard in their dealings with management.
  • Keep a copy of all correspondence that you generate and receive. Whenever you hand-deliver anything, have a copy stamped or signed for your files, proving delivery.
  • Copy all policy memoranda that the Agency issues, and keep them in your filing system. These often prove very useful.
  • Never meet with management by yourself. The recollections of two or more witnesses is far more persuasive than that of an individual.
  • Regardless of your personal feelings, remember that you represent the interests of the entire bargaining unit.
  • Pay attention to everyone who speaks up at a Union meeting. Most people are there only to listen. Those who speak up may be willing to get involved.
  • Delegate. Ask for help. The natural tendency is to let someone else handle the work. Don’t be shy about admitting that there is too much work for one person. There are any number of things that people can do to help, not all of which involve confrontation with management. Take advantage of the skills and talents of the membership.
  • Recognize those who assist. All of us are volunteers. Praise and encouragement are often the only motivational tools we can offer. Dispense them liberally.
  • Keep meticulous records of all of your dealings with management and of internal Union business.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Do not be intimidated by management’s fear tactics.
  • If you are not sure about whether management’s actions violate the contract or law, ASK someone who knows.
  • Beware of divide and conquer tactics.
  • The Local President should also coordinate all of the bargaining in the sector.
  • Record and keep contemporaneous notes of all conversations or encounters with management. Include names, dates, times, places, and verbatim quotations, if possible. These notes will add immensely to your credibility if a matter is presented to a third party.
  • Don’t be afraid to request sufficient official time to perform representational functions. If the Agency refuses to grant the requests, coordinate the filing of a grievance with your Local.
  • Do not abuse official time. If you are done using official time, you should return to work.
  • Don’t be afraid to call the Local 1613 President.

I would like to see this advice and a corollary document for supervisors and managers posted on bulletin boards wherever Feds work. Let’s remind both union and management representatives that ethics isn’t something to be regulated by a bureaucracy but rather a set of principles to be followed because they are true and right.

My hat’s off to you Local 1613.

I usually say that any opinion rendered is mine to take responsibility for it. I hope we can all share the opinions this Local is putting forward.

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.