December 10, 2013 at 3:38 am #181039
Did you know that federal employee unions are growing even as the overall government workforce shrinks? GovExec.com reports:
“Federal employee unions saw an uptick in membership after the government shutdown, and the number of members has been growing consistently over the last several years.”
1) Do you belong to a gov employee union? Have you ever?
2) Why or why not?
3) Do you view gov employee unions as a net positive or negative?
4) Is the local union effective within your agency? If not, has it ever been?
December 10, 2013 at 2:38 pm #181057
1) No, but only because I work in HR and it would be a conflict of interest.
2) If I was part of a bargaining unit, I would definitely choose to pay dues.
3) Net positive – they were the only voice crying in the wilderness on behalf of Feds during the sequester.
4) Unions are totally needed and worth “the trouble” of having them. They hold management accountable and represent the the voice of employees, who often have to voice.
Having said that, I also think that if we had great managers, we wouldn’t need unions as much.
December 10, 2013 at 3:33 pm #181055
3) Both. There are some things that only a union can achieve. And other times unions can foster too adversarial an atmosphere, IMO.
4) The union my occupational group is represented by is a smaller one than others. Typically what happens is that the larger ones, that have more impact, come to the bargaining table with the Employer, settle, and then whatever wage settlements are agreed to tend to trickle down, intact to the other smaller unions. That’s at the government-wide level. I could not tell you what their level of effectiveness is within my agency. I keep my nose out of such matters.
Addendum: Having had the honour of working on the development of government-wide employee surveys, I will say that the input of union officials has been invaluable. Important issues (e.g., workplace violence) that would have been completely neglected by managers and HR folks on the survey working group, and the Employer, were able to find their way in through the thoughtfulness (and persistence) of union reps.
Where decisions by the Government are anticipated to have a negative impact, as public policy, or have simply been deceptive or manipulative, unions have brought them to the fore in a manner that journalists and similar commentators have not been able to do, or know enough about the issues in question, to be able to do. Case in point: The Employer has been attempting to curtail PS sick leave of late, leveraging public antipathy towards the public service, and drawing rather unfair comparisons between private and public-sector numbers. Unions were quick to note that the numbers flaunted by the Employer had several systematic biases built in, and that, based on the Employers own administrative data, sick leave used by public servants was actually more in line with the private sector than was being portrayed. I highly doubt this sort of thing would have ever been spontaneously detected by journalists or legislators.
December 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm #181053
December 10, 2013 at 5:56 pm #181051
Thanks for the awesome feedback, Terry, love the pic!
December 10, 2013 at 6:22 pm #181049
Whoops, since I didn’t mention it, I’m talking about Canada. Wouldn’t want to start an unjustified panic in DC. 🙂
December 10, 2013 at 10:53 pm #181047
That’s pretty funny, Mark.
As usual, thank you for sharing your wisdom and unique insights. You always shed more light on these topics and cause people to think more broadly about the issues — which is very much appreciated by all GovLoop members.
Receiving feedback from you reminds me of the late, great Bill Safire in a sense. Keep it coming, sir.
December 11, 2013 at 12:43 am #181045
Terry, I totally concur. Unions have an invaluable role to play in protecting employee rights, generally, and defending whistle blowers who expose malfeasance or misconduct at their agencies.
Without the assistance of unions, it could be one employee against an entire organization with its many legal resources and management authority.
No, unions are not perfect but neither is anything. Frankly, I’m surprised that there are not many more hundreds of thousands of union members. Some folks only think of unions as a last resort after being egregiously retaliated against by agency management for whistle blowing. But unions do so much more than stand up to management abuse, etc.
Unfortunately, many employees — like yourself — are exempt by their agency from joining unions. This may extend beyond the HR office and beyond political appointees to rank and file non-SES employees.
I would urge everyone to seriously consider joining your agency’s local union. If you don’t do it, you will still learn more about the importance of unions and their historic role in the public and private sector workplaces.
Thanks again, Terry!
December 11, 2013 at 1:43 am #181043
Mark: thanks again for your excellent comments as well as the addendum. You make a plethora of good points. I’m just wondering why union membership is apparently obligatory in Canada when it’s a personal decision in America?
December 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm #181041
A few Conservative members of Parliament have proposed to make it optional for public servants to be members of the union representing their bargaining table, being all inspired by “right to work” states and all that. However, the way that compensation bargaining works is that such unaffiliated employees would still be the beneficiaries of whatever victories in compensation or benefits or working conditions the unions have gained for them, without contributing. They get the pizza, but haven’t paid for their share of it. The Employer, of course, is in no mood to negotiate salaries separately for all these people. So, as far as I understand it, the courts have essentially said “Nuh-unh. Ain’t happening.”. It’s one of those many things that sounds principled when someone says it, but is impractical on so many levels.
As was conveyed to me as well, I suspect the public sector unions are more unified, and less agency-specific here than they are in the USA. And that, in turn, may simply be a byproduct of scale, governance structures, and such. But like I say, I tend to keep my nose out of such matters. I pay my dues, and when I get informed that a new collective agreement has been reached, I go “Uh, okay.”.
Not ALL federal employes have unions, I should point out. Those in the EX (executive) group have an “association” ( http://www.apex.gc.ca/ ), but are not in a union. As I understand it, there are many other occupational groups that are considered “unrepresented”, however the majority are. Some useful information about who is and isn’t represented, and how compensation rates are dictated, can be found starting here: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pubs_pol/hrpubs/coll_agre/rates-taux-eng.asp
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