date: 03/02/2010 01:14 pm
subject: recent developments affecting the bureau, the union, and you

dear member of the bargaining unit,

i am writing to bring you up-to-date on two recent developments affecting the bureau, the union, and you.

the first development is that the federal labor relations administration has approved the union's petition to combine the bargaining units represented by the three afge locals at the bureau into a new national consolidated bargaining unit, and the three locals are preparing to establish an afge council of census locals; the new council will be able to negotiate a new and better contract for you.

the second is that president obama has issued an executive order that has the potential to improve government by giving you a more direct role in the bureau's operations.

i. the consolidation of the census bargaining units

wait a minute, you say. what's a "bargaining unit?"

fellow employee, you are old enough now to learn the federal labor relations facts of life. a bargaining unit is a group of nonsupervisory employees with rights to representation by the union. the members of any bu share a "community of interest" in the eyes of the law. they also share the protections afforded by the collective bargaining agreement-- the contract.

you may be surprised to learn that you are a member of the bargaining unit. well, you are. in fact, all nonsupervisory employees at hq, jville, and tucson are members of the bu. the only exceptions are "confidential" employees and nonclerical hr workers.

at hq, we have actually had five bargaining units, some quite small, one dating all the way back to 1967. afge local 2782 has represented all of them as their "exclusive representative." the recent flra decision combines four of the hq bus with the jeffersonville-npc and tucson telephone center bus and clears the way for the formation of the bargaining council that will negotiate a new contract with the bureau covering all employees in the combined bu. "all" means employees throughout the bureau, whether at hq, npc, or tucson or any other bureau outpost whose employees decide to join the union.

while the old contract has its good points, it dates back to 1990 and could be improved upon. if you are familiar with the union's 2010 agenda, we are calling on the bureau to adopt a maxiflex work schedule along the lines of the schedule that has been in place for years in main commerce. the new contract would have maxiflex written into it-- at least, the union would try very hard to get it in. and we can think of many other ways the contract needs to be updated to reflect changes in society, technology, and the changing needs of the federal labor force.

before we can go further down that road, though, the flra requires an election by the bu consisting of bureau hq professionals (economists, nurses, social science analysts, survey statisticians, and the like). the professionals get to decide whether they want to join the combined bu or form a bu of their own. either way, nonsupervisory professionals will still be represented by their union local as their exclusive representative and will still be able to file grievances under the new contract, just as they have been able to do so under the old one.

if the professionals were to decide to form their own bu that decision would be based, presumably, on a perceived professional community of interest: "our representational needs as professionals are different from what the nonprofessionals need."

in the union's view, this would be a mistake. bosses are bosses and nonsupervisory employees, whether professional or not, have similar workplace issues. furthermore, the bureau could make things awkward by objecting to a nonprofessional union official representing a professional employee, and vice versa. the law allows agencies to deny this "cross representation," and if the bureau does, it could mean that a professional with a grievance is denied the best available union representation.

for this reason, we recommend that those of you who are professionals vote to join the combined bu. you have something to gain and nothing to lose.

in any case, the election (by secret ballot) is coming, probably in mid-april, so stay alert for more notices. we will have at least one meeting where the union can meet with the professionals and answer their (your) questions.

ii. eo 13522 and the new labor/management forums

president obama signed executive order 13522 on december 9th, 2009. it calls for the establishment of "labor/management forums" throughout the executive branch that will improve efficiency in government by inviting employees and their representatives-- that's the union-- to share in "predecisional involvment" in "all workplace matters." if you are familiar with labor/management "partnership", you can think of the new eo as the obama version of partnership.

we have had partnership at the bureau, both at hq and in npc, since the clinton era. (more recently, partnership in jville has been the responsibility of a labor/management committee.) in fact, bureau management prides itself on having continued partnership even after president bush, in one of his first official acts, rescinded the clinton partnership eo.

the bureau's continuation of partnership is laudable, but we must also note that in 2003, bureau management downgraded the hq partnership council from a decision-making to a strictly advisory body-- which it still is.

partnership here at hq, though not well-publicized, and though it has worked very slowly ("glacially" in the words of one observer) has brought some significant improvements in our conditions of employment, including the pass/fail performance evaluation system, the 4-10 work schedule, and more recently support for employees who are veterans.

the new eo reaffirms the principle of management/labor cooperation and states that management must work with employees and their unions to improve working conditions and the efficiency of government. it establishes labor/management forums at all levels of the executive branch. the many unions who represent employees at the department of commerce have been shaping a proposal for the new l/m forum at the departmental level and will present it to department senior management this coming tuesday, march 2nd.

there will also be a forum or council for the entire census bureau. we are also pressing for the establishment of councils at each bureau location with a union local-- tucson, jville, and suitland-- that will discuss issues, e.g., specific security arrangements, of local scope.

the detailed organization and charter of each of these forums (or councils) is what management and labor will be talking about from now until march 9th-- the deadline set by the eo for agencies to submit their plans to the new labor/management council. we expect that the council for the bureau will embody features of both the old partnership agreement and the new doc-level forum.

the important thing to remember is that these new bodies give you an opportunity to use your knowledge and experience to improve your work unit, division, bureau, and department. the new councils will need employees willing to serve on them-- perhaps you'd be interested. time served on the councils would be duty (paid) time.

of course, the union would expect every member of the bu interested in serving on a council to join the union.

if serving on a council is not your cup of tea, the eo still gives you an important role to play. for employees and their union reps to have meaningful pre-decisional involvement in bureau operations, the union has to know what's going on.

management has a duty to inform the union about its plans and projects well before they reach a point of decision. but you, the employee, need to make the union aware of those plans and projects as well.

you may have specific knowledge that will clarify the picture that management is presenting.

you may have suggestions that, if adopted, would improve working conditions or save the bureau money. in a recent meeting with the union, director groves said he wished he'd had a nickel for every time someone had told him that the bureau should have listened to the employees who'd told him that the handheld computers wouldn't work.

you could be the employee who heads off the next handheld disaster and saves the bureau's reputation and the taxpayers' dollars.

for our part, we pledge to keep you informed as management and the union struggle to create the new forums the president's order requires. we ask you, for your part, to consider the role you want to play in making them a success.

bill schauman
president, afge local 2782
census bureau hq, suitland, md
(301) 763-3176 work

 

 


last update: march 3, 2010
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