Thursday, February 19, 2004

Coming Soon to a Location Near You: Union Busting, Federal Style

The Terrorists Have Won

Long article in the Federal Times, Union Busting DoD Style, about the new civil service "reforms" at the Department of Defense, and an interview with chief union buster and undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, David Chu. Some of the "highlights" include:
  • At least half of the more than 400,00 employees covered by collective bargaining units could lose that right.

  • It would be harder to join a union and easier to drop out.

  • Unions could consult management about big changes to working conditions, but management would have the final say.
The union’s big fear is that
changes would gut workplace protections for employees, fuel labor-management animosity and mistrust, and kick off the dismantling of collective bargaining rights across government.
And make no mistake about it, the Department of Defense labor plan, combined with the attacks on union rights for Department of Homeland Security employees, are just the precursor of their plans for the entire federal government labor force. And as we experienced more than 20 years ago with PATCO, private industry tends to take their labor-relations cue from the federal government. Although, in this case, government may be taking its cue from private sector union busters.

Chu tells unions to chill:
“It’s a starting point. I don’t really think we’re wedded to these ideas in any strong sense,” Chu said. “We’re very hopeful everyone will calm down and enter into this dialogue in the spirit it was intended.”


“It would be a hideous mistake to think that this is being poured in concrete,” Chu said. “We’re going to evaluate its performance on an ongoing basis. If it works well in particular areas, then we celebrate that fact and we enforce those successes. If the results are weak . . . then we will all want to readdress the tools we are using and the approach we are taking.”
"If it works well in particular areas" for whom?

One of the most objectionable parts of the plan is a proposal to allow union representation only when a majority of employees in a given bargaining unit to vote for representation. The current standard requires a majority of only those employees who actually vote. But as Colleen Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union. says, “They have set up a system for union elections that no current elected official could meet in their own elections if they were applied to them.”

Good point. As a matter of fact, the current resident of the White House didn't even get 50% of those voting in 2000.

Although DOD was ordered by Congress to work with the Office of Personnel Management on the changes, OPM has pretty much been ignored in favor of private consultants who don’t appear to be very "enlightened" when it comes to labor relations:
“DoD has hundreds of different unions. To try to do anything systematic across the department in that environment, it’s almost impossible,” said Tim Barnhart, a federal human resources consultant who has worked for several Defense agencies. “They tend to represent a disgruntled minority and they tend to not be in a position to facilitate progress. They tend to be an obstacle.”
Chu betrays his attitude toward unions in an accompanying interview when asked about planned provisions that would allow members to stop paying dues at any time instead of at a specified time during the year.
If the union is successful as an organization, people are going to want to pay their dues. That’s how people pay dues to professional organizations. No one makes you join your professional organization. You pay your dues, often much more substantial dues, because you think you got fair value for that money. I’m surprised the unions feel they can’t pass that test.
Well, yeah David, but when you stop paying dues to a professional organization, you stop getting their benefits. No freeloaders there.

While the unions will attempt to use whatever pressure they can through Congress or demonstrations, they're keeping their eye on the prize:
AFGE held a protest rally at the Capitol on Feb. 11 to call lawmakers’ attention to the proposed changes, but few union leaders or employees seem to believe lawmakers will do anything. Instead, they say the only real option is to march to the voting booth in November and remove President Bush and his Cabinet from office.

“The only way this is going to be changed is if we change administrations,” said Don Hale, president of AFGE Local 2367 in West Point, N.Y.
The disgruntled minority has spoken.