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Top Federal Workers Union Lists Priorities for Obama

By Ed O'Keefe

Once he takes office, President-elect Obama should issue an executive order re-establishing the federal sector labor-management partnership and all federal agencies should have to review service contracts and cancel wasteful ones, according to recommendations issued today by the National Treasury Employees Union.

The group represents roughly 150,000 federal employees and 31 agencies or departments. It also wants Obama to provide Transportation Security Administration employees with collective bargaining rights and the same pay system as most other federal employees, as well as end the Internal Revenue Service's use of private tax collectors.

"This is not a wish list. this is a framework for what we see as a very serious discussion," said NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley. "I think President-elect Obama is very much in-synch with NTEU with these issues." The group has sent the recommendations to the Obama transition office and hopes to schedule meetings with representatives soon.

The union is most hopeful that Obama will reinstate a Clinton-era executive order that established labor-management partnerships within the federal workforce. President Bush revoked the order in 2001. A December 2000 report by the Office of Personnel Management found the partnerships “helped cut costs, enhance productivity, and improve customer service at agencies across Government.”

"Increases in productivity are best achieved when managers and employees work in partnership and collaboration to achieve agency missions," NTEU's report states.

"Front-line employees have a really good idea of how to do the work of the federal government better," Kelley told The Eye in a previous interview. "Current employees and potential employees are looking for a way to put their ideas to work. There really has been a lack of that especially over the past eight years and in large part that happened because the current administration has never valued or respected federal workers or the jobs they do."

The union's calls for collective bargaining at TSA are backed by Obama, who wrote a series of letters to federal workers that, among other things, state his support for granting TSA workers the same bargaining rights and workplace protections as other federal workers.

"It is unacceptable for [Transportation Security Officers] to work under unfair rules and without workplace protections – this makes it more difficult for them to perform their jobs," Obama wrote in a letter addressing TSA concerns.

As for the IRS' private tax collection program, NTEU calls it "a financial failure and even the IRS acknowledges the work could be done more cost-effectively by IRS employees." The Post reported last April that "Since 2006, the agency has used three companies to go after a $1 billion slice of the nation's unpaid taxes. Despite aggressive collection tactics, the companies have rounded up only $49 million, little more than half of what it has cost the IRS to implement the program." There is Democratic support in Congress to end the programs and Obama expressed support for ending the program in his discussions with NTEU, Kelley said.

The 52-page list of recommendations also urges Obama to quickly fill a vacancy on the Federal Labor Relations Authority, urge passage of paid parental leave legislation and support the Whistleblower Protection Act.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 19, 2008; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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Posted by: FutureJumps | November 19, 2008 8:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm a little suspicious of the proposal to have the union veto service contracts. They generally don't want competition from contractors, so this strikes me as a way to eliminate competition.

Also, "paid parental leave" seems biased in favor of employees with children. Federal employees have annual leave they can take for parental or any other reason already, why more leave needed for one particular sector of the federal workforce?

Posted by: RealChoices | November 19, 2008 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, and very sadly, seems that as the unions rush to restore what are obviously anti-competitive poicies, i.e., unions having veto power over other service contracts, etc., they forget to have as a Top Priority the total elimination of the Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz-driven National Security Personnel System (NSPS) that is now found throughout the DOD and other departments.
I have been in Government service for 38 years with two in the Military, and there has never been a more corrupt, demoralizing, destabilizing Governmental appraisal system.......EVER!!
Federal Unions!!! Set as your top priority the total elimination of this horribly flawed personnel system and retain positive competitive polices!!!!

Posted by: RocketMan3 | November 20, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I don't think that "the current administration has never valued or respected federal workers or the jobs they do." The unions' real concerns are that the administration didn't respect federal unions and the job they do. My experience has been that both unions and management are self-serving and neither has the best interests of the employees foremost in mind. The so-called partnerships did nothing to change this except maybe to move the conflict to a partnership council. On the other hand, I would welcome a permanent resolution to the outsourcing problem. The interpretation of inherently governmental functions should not shift with changes in administrations and agendas.

Posted by: bigtom6156 | November 20, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

My father was a labor organizer and union leader and I supported unions for a long time. As we now watch Detroit's Big 3 AND the UAW plead for life support, I question whether anyone cares more about the long term sustainability of these institutions than their next quarter's bonus or health-care-for-life benefits. Greed and mis-management have played a major role in their current crisis and may result in the demise of one or more of them.

I'm now hearing the same from the public sector at both fedearl and state levels. Jobs-for-life, pensions, health care, AND 401K-like plans? Hey, can I join that game?! And the whine about lower salaries may have been true in the past, but chuckleheaded pols with no management (or financial) skills have made that maddengly untrue today. And this paper recently reported how the departing "small government" administration is rewarding its appointees with juicy sinecures. Aargh.

The public sector is in need of serious reform on many fronts. These recommendations may be a starting point. But I hope that the Obama administration includes non-partisan, private sector experts in this review to bring a dose of reality to this unaffordable public gravy train.

Posted by: skybrew | November 20, 2008 6:30 PM | Report abuse

is anyone aware of any current 'hiring freeze' occuring with the va?

Posted by: peterjlydon | November 21, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

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