Federal Unions’ Top Ten Goals for an Obama Presidency?

America has a President-Elect. Federal unions supported Barack Obama and are counting on him to reverse their fortunes after eight long years of President George Bush. What should they push to accomplish and what should their priorities be? The author provides some ideas on what might be coming in an Obama administration.

Well, it’s all over including the shouting. The right is out. The left is in. In its opening press release on the upcoming change in administration, AFGE says, “Early in the election season, Obama met with AFGE leadership on several occasions, during which he signified his support for organized labor and federal workers.” It appears obvious that AFGE and other Federal unions believe the Obama win signals a new age and opportunity for them and maybe their constituents as well.

A key question is whether there were any real lessons learned among those same unions who traded a photo op and little else with Bill Clinton for 238,000 lost Federal employee defense jobs. Do they remember that Mr. Clinton’s other agenda items for Federal government and particularly Federal employees, wasn’t so friendly.

Not that any Federal union would even consider listening to my advice, but if you are reading this, it might be wise to spend the next few months carefully structuring your goals and quickly identifying their relative priority.

Here are the goals Federal unions have espoused at one time or another and those that appear likely targets. I’ll leave it to the commentors to decide the order in which they should be ranked.

Agency Shop – Rating #__

The American Heritage Dictionary calls an Agency Shop, “an establishment in which a union represents all employees regardless of union membership but requires that nonmembers pay union dues or fees.” Currently, few Federal unions get past 10 or 15% membership. I don’t know about you but if I had to pay anyway, I would join and make sure I got leadership that advanced my interests. That would throw a monkey wrench into a lot of local union politics.

Pay Bargaining – Rating #__

FAA, some banking agencies and a few others have it now. It may be unlikely that Congressional appropriators will want to deal with unions on labor dollars, an issue that makes up 90%+ of many Agency budgets. If Federal unions try to expend their political capital here, they may be disappointed.

Organizing TSA – Rating #__

It appears clear that an Obama administration will extend collective bargaining rights to many TSA employees particularly Transportation Security Officers. Talk about a major family fight. Both AFGE and NTEU have made it clear that each considers TSA their organizing target. With 35,000 plus potential dues payers and over $18 million in potential dues, this fight looks likely to be as hard fought as NTEU’s $8 million losing battle to take the Social Security Administration away from AFGE. John Gage, Afge’s National President was at the helm of SSA Local 1923 at the time and is known for a long memory. While NTEU’s then leader is now a college professor, the current Executive VP was a general in that battle and will not likely roll to an easy AFGE win.

In AFGE’s post election press release on TSA, it says that:

“The union has worked closely with Cong. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., to help sign co-sponsors to H.R. 3212, a bill introduced by Lowey that would repeal of a footnote of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (under which TSA was created) that gives the TSA administrator free rein to “employ, appoint, discipline, terminate, and fix the compensation, terms and conditions of employment” for TSOs.”

Careful what you ask for, AFGE. If you get TSA under the current law, management would likely have to bargain pay as the provisions for setting pay are identical to those governing FAA.

Favorable FLRA and Impasses Panel Selections – Rating #__

Maybe the easiest to accomplish, Federal unions will likely get a shot at proposing and vetting if not actually hand picking a new Chairman (third member) and General Counsel for the Authority and a bunch of Panel members. After screaming about the lack of neutrality during the Bush administration, it may be too much for them not to jump at supporting union friendly nominees.

Friendly Players at OPM and Labor – Rating #__

During the Clinton years, former AFGE employees not only went in droves to OPM but one actually got the top job. Could there be some resume updating going on at 80 F Street? Federal unions can probably forget the Department of Labor as the private sector union heavies will likely get those nods.

Sick Leave Credit Toward FERS Retirement – Rating #__

While costly, this should be a no brainer as it encourages employees to not treat sick leave as a personal day. Of course, the President-Elect will inherit a bunch of issues requiring costly fixes and may be tighter around the wallet than some might believe.

Greater Involvement in Agency Decision Making – Rating #__

Partnership was a highly touted but frequently overrated benefit by involved union leaders. A notable blue collar representative once told me that helping management make decisions only made this union part of the problem and that members want to go to the union with complaints about management. “If union and management “partnered” on the decision”, he said, “Where do employees go if they don’t like the outcome?”

Canning the FLRA and the Panel to Rely on Arbitration – Rating #__

Right here on Fedsmith, NTEU’s National Executive Vice President called for “Scuttling the Federal Labor Relations Authority.” Of course, that could change if NTEU is comfortable with the players at either FLRA or the Panel. Who knows? Maybe the new administration will nominate that self same individual to be Chairman. After all, he has a doctorate and years of Federal labor relations experience. I wonder if AFGE would consider him neutral?

Reverse Contracting of Federal Employee Jobs – Rating #__

This is listed as one of three top goals for AFGE in the press release cited in the first paragraph. Again, this may be a costly consideration for President Obama when put in context with other costly efforts.

Dealing with Government Reform – Rating #__

“But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less–because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy” – Barack Obama, August, 2008.

Another Democrat, Jimmy Carter, sought to reform government. Perhaps the lessons learned from the civil service reform efforts and law of the late 1970s should be reviewed before unions go chasing bandwagons much less jumping on one.

As usual, any opinion expressed above is mine alone and (probably also as usual) no one else’s.

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.