Department of Education v. AFGE: Union Busting or Fiscal Responsibility?

AFGE and the Education Department have been battling over a collective bargaining agreement. Is the agency “union busting” or being financially prudent?

Recently, the Department of Education, not known for a hard-nosed, kick butt, kill ‘em and let God sort it out approach to policy-making, took a hard stance on an issue that Agencies have been struggling with for a long time, specifically, the cost of union representation.

The Agency, claiming frustration with union bargaining tactics of delay and avoidance, issued a unilateral “contract” addressing mostly the institutional rights of the Agency and the union.

I recently wrote up the dispute in a FedSmith article. That article quoted the positions of both the union and the Agency as they outlined it.

I ran the numbers on what the AFGE contract cost Education and came up, very conservatively, with over $1,450,000.00 for union representatives’ direct costs and $250,000.00 for office space and equipment to easily total beyond $1,500,000.00. It’s all laid out below.

Meanwhile, the local unions at the Department have amassed large cash assets and investments. Check my facts and estimates, if you like.

Facts Not Mentioned in Coverage Thus Far

Before the American people, department employees or American Federation of Government Employee’s (AFGE) members mount the barricades to correct this alleged evil-doing by a Federal Department, we should look at what’s on the table in this event.

I looked at the Department of Labor’s (DOL) website, specifically, the reports to that Department by the unions involved and discovered some very interesting facts. Here’s what I found:

  • AFGE, in its press release says it represents 3,900 Education employees at headquarters and in 10 regions. In reports filed with DOL, Council 252 of AFGE said it had 645 members last year. The Headquarters Local, 2607, said it had 365 members in the same year. That means that the ten regional locals had 280 dues paying members between them. So, of those 3,900 Department employees, only about 17% percent, or about 1 in 6 of the employees, thought it was worth the $20 or so a month in dues to have AFGE represent them.
  • In another interesting note, Local 2607 reported having assets in cash and investments of $336,745.00 and Council 252 reported $74,879.00 in cash as assets. Not counting the ten field locals, the Headquarters Local and the Council have close to $450,000.00 between them in their war chest. This becomes very interesting in a little bit.
  • The national headquarters of AFGE, which collects a tax from locals, reported $45,320,976.00 in assets of which $16,000,000.00 was in cash. AFGE reported that it spent $11,240,143.00 on political activities and lobbying in its last report.

Oh yeah, please don’t take my word for any of this. Go to the DOL website and use these file numbers: Council 252 is 517-553, Local 2607 is 503-499, and AFGE national is 500-002.

I remind people from time to time that a Federal employee union, like AFGE, is not a governmental entity. Congress has not appropriated one cent directly to fund its activities.

Hill staff, when they find out the scope of the Federal subsidies provided to Federal employee unions, always ask, “Who voted that funding?” If asked I say, you, or at least the Federal Labor Relations Authority did!

Why Would Education Take Issue with Union Costs?

My estimates were conservatively $1,500,000.00 to subsidize union activity at Department of Education. Quibble, if you will, but look at the numbers below.

First, Official Time Alone, Conservatively: $1,240,200.00

You know it can’t cost that much for union representation, can it?

In my Navy days as an Agency representative, I dealt for a bit with a Teamsters’ business agent in Florida. He was a union employee, not paid by Navy, and did all the bargaining and case dealing in unfair labor practices and above the second step grievance procedure on behalf of about 2,500 mostly trades employees. His office was off the base on which the represented activity was located.

Let’s look at two concepts that contrast with that. First, Union representatives, and second, what Education pays in direct union operating costs. I got this information from the December 17, 2013 contract between AFGE and Education.

  • Article 12 creates labor management forums and discussion groups around the country. The key section says: “Section 12.04 D. D. All designated Union representatives participating in the forum will be granted official time.”
  • Article 13 calls for the creation of other committees:
    “Section 13.01 The Parties shall jointly create labor-management committees or workgroups at the level of recognition and other appropriate levels agreed to by labor and Management, or adopt existing workgroups and/or committees to help identify problems, propose solutions and to work effectively to better serve the employee, public and Department missions. The Union shall be represented on these committees or workgroups, when established, as provided for by this Article. The Union will designate to the Employer the name of its representative(s) to each committee or workgroup and will notify the Employer of any changes in its designated representative(s). The designated Union representatives will receive official time.”
  • Article 14 is titled “Union Representatives and Official Time”. It calls for:
    • “The Union will be allotted no fewer than seventy-five (75) stewards throughout Headquarters and the regional offices.”
    • “The Council President, National Shop Steward, and the Local 2607 President shall be released from duty for 100% official time.”
    • The following Union representatives may use a reasonable amount of official time: 1. Council 252 Officers; 2. The President, Vice-President, Secretary, Chief Steward, and Treasurer of each Union Local; and, 3. Stewards authorized in Section 14.03(A).
    • The Employer shall grant official time for short periods of time, ordinarily not to exceed forty (40) hours for each year this Agreement is in effect, to stewards and officers authorized to engage in representational activities to attend external training courses that relate directly to the matters within the scope of the Statute and which are of mutual benefit to the Union and the Employer. New stewards and officers shall be granted up to forty (40) hours each year.
  • Article 27 addressing Equal Employment Opportunity creates the following:
    • Diversity and EEO Committees A. In achieving a model EEO program, the Employer and the Union agree to establish a joint Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (DEEO) Advisory Committee in headquarters. This committee will serve in an advisory capacity to the Employer ensuring that the Department is in compliance with EEO policies and procedures, specifically taking actions to remove identified barriers affecting equal opportunities for all employees. All Committees will include as much diversity as possible. Committees will reflect diversity to the maximum extent possible. . B. The DEEO Advisory Committee will consist of six (6) members, three (3) appointed by the Union and three (3) by the Employer.
  • Article 34 addressing safety and health has the following language:
    • At least two (2) Union members of the Headquarters Safety and Health Committee representing Headquarters or the region, whichever is practical, or their designee, shall be invited to accompany Department of Labor or Department of Education safety inspectors on all regularly scheduled tours and on the initial and final inspection related to any safety and health hazard at any Department of Education location.

NOTE: Regarding Article 34, I guess I’d like to know what horrors exist in the office space at Education to warrant not one but two union representatives whenever OSHA shows up. I looked at the Education website’s contact page and then googled their DC locations. I’m sure Upton Sinclair (look it up) would be shocked by the appalling sites in which Education’s poor employees are required to toil. Really?


So, what does the above cost? I had to make some assumptions but let’s be very conservative.

There are 3 employees on 100% official time. Let’s also assume that the Council has as many officers as a local. That makes a total of 55.

Then there’s the 75 stewards. That’s 120 union reps and let’s say, just for argument that each uses only 4 hours per week. (THAT’S the epitome of a conservative estimate in my experience).

OK, so we’re now talking about 480 hours per week times 52 weeks, or 24,960 hours a year, plus the 6,264 hours for the three 100%ers or, rounded off, 31,224 hours per year.

Federal employee years are usually considered to contain 2,088 hours, so that’s the equivalent of about 15 full-time permanent people to represent 3,900 of which only 645 are members. Let’s assume the average grade of Education employees is GS 12, step 1, or $63,600, plus the generally accepted figure of 30% direct benefits costs, or $82,680 per representative.

Education is paying (at a minimum) $1,240,200 for these representatives.

Second, Subsidized Operating Costs, Conservatively: $250,000.00

Article 15 of the expired agreement addresses “Use of Official Facilities”. It requires Education to provide 275 square feet to the 11 locals and the same for the council. At an average of $45 per sq. ft., that’s $148,000.00.

Local and Council office, unless otherwise agreed upon:

  1. Two (2) lateral file cabinets
  2. One (1) conference table large enough to adequately accommodate six (6) individuals
  3. Six (6) side chairs
  4. Two (2) modular, systems, or standard furniture sets suitable for assigned space
  5. Multi Line Telephone System (at least three (3) individual telephone numbers) and one (1) polycom-style conference capable unit
  6. Two (2) computers and (1) black and white printer
  7. Magnetic white board
  8. The Employer will provide a phone with voice mail capabilities published in the Employer email address book
  9. One (1) color Multi-Function printer (Scan/Fax/Print/Copy)

Multiply each of the above times 12, so:

  • 24 lateral file cabinets @$300 or $7,200
  • 12 conference tables large enough to adequately accommodate six (6) individuals @$250 or $3,000
  • 72 side chairs @$150 or $10,800
  • 24 modular systems, or standard furniture sets suitable for assigned space @$2,500 or $60,000.00
  • 12 Multi Line Telephone Systems (at least three (3) individual telephone numbers) @$200 plus 200 for service $4,800
  • 12 polycom-style conference capable unit @$100 or $1,200
  • 24 computers @ $1,000 or $24,000
  • 12 black and white printers @ $150 or $1,800
  • 12 Magnetic white boards @$150 or $1,800
  • 12 times “The Employer will provide a phone with voice mail capabilities published in the Employer email address book”
  • 12 color Multi-Function printers (Scan/Fax/Print/Copy) @$300 or $3,600


  • 12 lockable bulletin boards exclusively for its use, per location (at least 15 locations) @$800 or $9,600
  • 15 copies of Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations on an annual basis @$210 per year for three years or $9,450
  • Mail delivery
  • Use of the interoffice mail
  • Use of Employer metered mail limited to labor relations representational matters
  • 9 Blackberry devices @$90 or $810.00
  • 75 “External Storage devices” @$100 or $7,500

The above items were estimated where I could at Amazon, Office Depot or Best Buy at what they would cost if anyone was setting up an office at $145,560.00. The other services, including delivery and set up, I have no way to estimate directly, but a fair low-ball estimate would bring the total to, conservatively, $250,000.00.

What’s Important Here?

Employees at Education pay about $240.00 per year for 645 people if AFGE’s membership claims are correct. That’s $154,800 of which the national gets over 40% leaving $92,880.00. That’s OK, though, not a penny of that money goes to their representation before Education. The Agency was, until recently, covering over 15 times that much to give them a union.

AFGE pays absolutely nothing to conduct its business at Education. This is not in a shipyard waterfront, or border crossing, or law enforcement vehicle, or other sometimes difficult environment but in a modern, climate controlled, carpeted, ergonomically correct office space where people are well paid, have good benefits and multiple redress systems available.  Not only that but the local unions are able to build up hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and investments.

Education was likely not paying anywhere near what some other Agencies are spending to sustain unions.

Have things gotten out of hand? You decide.

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.