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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Federal worker union membership drops

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Union membership among federal employees dropped last year to fewer than 1 million, according to federal statistics released late last week.

About 984,000 of the federal government's 3.5 million full and part-time workers are union members, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. Union membership dropped 1.2 percent among federal workers from the previous year.

Nearly 1.1 million employees -- or 31 percent of the federal government's workers -- are represented by unions, an almost 2 percent drop from 2009.

The slimming ranks come as federal worker unions are fending off proposals by Congressional Republicans to trim the federal workforce.

Union membership among public sector workers at the federal, state and local level fell to 36 percent, a 1 percent drop from 2009. Private sector union membership fell from 7.2 percent to 6.9 percent, BLS said.

Overall, the nation's public and private sector unions lost about 612,000 members in 2010, dropping the number of total unionized workers to 11.9 percent of the American workforce, a low not seen since the labor movement began in earnest during the 1930s.

The data is collected by the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and analyzed by BLS.

The future of federal worker unionization remains unclear. Membership could climb slightly in the coming years if the Transportation Security Administration grants collective bargaining rights to airport security screeners. The government's two largest unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, are vying to represent transportation security officers, currently the largest bloc of workers seeking bargaining rights.

But the federal workforce is also ripe for cutbacks. Congressional Republicans and President Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission want to cut the federal payroll through furloughs, attrition and the elimination of dozens of federal agencies or programs that employ thousands of workers.

Federal union leaders and supportive lawmakers fear cuts in federal salaries and benefits packages would cause the rapid departure of older workers and make it more difficult to recruit younger, talented replacements.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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By Ed O'Keefe  | January 24, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

"Union memebership" is not the same as "member of a bargaining unit represented by a union." Only a small percentage of federal employees who are members of bargaining units represented by federal employee unions actually pay union dues ($300-$400/year) and are members of the union - it varies, but 20% is probably a good average.

Why does this matter to anyone? It's because federal employee unions benefit from a broken, lawbreaking Office of Special Counsel and a lawbreaking Merit Systems Protection Board that enables it - so they take no exception to it, regardless of the grave harm that results to America. Federal employee unions pitch voluntarily paying their dues as a type of "insurance" to members of the bargaining units they represent - pay the dues, so the union will "protect" you if you experience a prohibited personnel practice (PPP).

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), has the same function - it is a federal law enforcement agency, created to protect feds from PPPs. The federal employee unions, in 1994, got the law changed to severely limit the access of federal employee who belong to the bargaining units they represent to OSC, to make their "remedy" - the negotiated grievance procedure - more attractive, making paying union dues as "insurance" more attractive.

It's a protection racket - federal employee unions enable a lawbreaking OSC, so feds will need the unions "protection," so they will pay the unions dues. If only the stakes for America were not so high.

I'm "out there," Ed O'Keefe, but the Washington Post will not consider the facts and publish the results. google my name Joe Carson, send an email to jpcarson (at) tds (dot) net.

Posted by: jpcarson2 | January 24, 2011 7:55 AM | Report abuse

The reason that union membership is declining is quite simple federal employee unions do nothing for the federal worker in the trenches. Local union officers are federal employees and use their positions to further there career instead of protecting the union members. The biggest problem the federal worker faces is harassment and removal for not following the party line or for trying to enforce the law. I have seen time and time again where the innocent worker was sacrificed as a bargaining chip. In one instant the local union president sold out several workers in return for a promotion to senior management. His predecessor did the same for major cash awards and field promotions.
Every time the agency instituted harsher working policies the union went along. In short the federal unions are nothing but self serving entities that constantly sell their members down the drain. Anyone who joins will be sorely disappointed.

Posted by: whistleblower1 | January 24, 2011 8:27 AM | Report abuse

The reason that union membership is declining is quite simple federal employee unions do nothing for the federal worker in the trenches. Local union officers are federal employees and use their positions to further there career instead of protecting the union members. The biggest problem the federal worker faces is harassment and removal for not following the party line or for trying to enforce the law. I have seen time and time again where the innocent worker was sacrificed as a bargaining chip. In one instant the local union president sold out several workers in return for a promotion to senior management. His predecessor did the same for major cash awards and field promotions.
Every time the agency instituted harsher working policies the union went along. In short the federal unions are nothing but self serving entities that constantly sell their members down the drain. Anyone who joins will be sorely disappointed.

Posted by: whistleblower1 | January 24, 2011 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Me and my friends were recently appointed federal employees. Not so recently that some are nearing the one year mark. We have heard from women in government, blacks in government and a number of affliate organizations we may or may not qualify.

Neither I or my friends in our collective stretch have been asked to join a union. Not once.

For whatever reason you are not catching feds as they come in the door--especially when I can be microtargetting via Facebook or google then it is your own fault you are losing membership.

Posted by: CultureClub | January 24, 2011 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Why in the world would govt workers need union representation? I've refused to work in states that have nurses unions. I don't need some nimrod from a union representing me and quite frankly paying for the privilege of doing so. From this article it appears that others have come to the same conclusion. Do you enjoy watching your dues go to pay for political ads during an election? I'd rather keep my own money thank you.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | January 24, 2011 8:38 AM | Report abuse

As a retired AFGE Labor Union leader this is sad but understandable. Younger federal employees enjoy the benefits but do not know commitment or loyality. The federal worker's work enviroment is not a hostile or abusive as in the past. The union is the organizations that have made this true. I represented employees winning and setting presidents that federal employees enjoy nationwide. There will always be work place grievances. Some of the comments made here are from being misinformed or ignorant of the legal processes. I represented nurses in many cases saving them their jobs. The union leaders and representatives at the local and national levels must do a better job.
The comment about the MSPB and OSC probably lost their case. I represented in MSPB and won a number of cases.

Posted by: pasisk | January 24, 2011 9:30 AM | Report abuse

The union members, and especially the union officials, in my agency are the laziest, and most complaining, employees. They all have some kind of vendetta against their supervisors and think that the agency is "out to get them." They seem to think that they should get outstanding ratings and bonuses for doing nothing more than the bare minimum of work, performed at barely satisfactory levels. New employees join the union, and then quit a few months later, because they see how it operates and realize that hanging out with that bunch of lazy complainers hurts their chances of advancement.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 24, 2011 9:35 AM | Report abuse

It is extremely disappointing to read some of these comments. I consider myself fortunate in that I know what it means to work in a place where the Union does have your best interest. I will only speak from that perspective. I was a Union official for over 10 years. While in that capacity I represented many employees and employee interests from negotiating expanded FMLA entitlements, to onsite daycare, reorganizations, backpay, upgrades, discriminatory practices, serving on Partnership Councils, etc. For the past 10 years, I have been a Labor and Employee Relations Specialist. Believe me - Unions do not hold the market on laziness. One of the significant problems in the workplace is disempowered, uninformed/misinformed and yes "lazy" supervisors. Many supervisors simply do not know how to be a positively effective supervisor. This must be taught. I have trained hundreds of supervisors on labor and employee relation issues and I speak from that perspective. There is a significant problem where there is insufficient communication between supervisors and employees. I can't tell you how many times I’ve heard that a supervisor failed to communicate performance expectations to their employees or failed to discuss leave expectations and entitlements. It is easy to blame the Union for "getting" a "bad" employee off. However, that should not be the main focus; rather what didn't Management do to ensure that poor performers or employees with misconduct issues are appropriately addressed. There is culpability on both sides. One of the main responsibilities of the Union is to represent employees rather than judge and to adhere to their obligation of duty to fair representation. Yes, as a Union official I represented many employees that realistically should have been removed, but for Management's failure to adhere to the collective bargaining agreement, they were thrown out. I can truly respect a well informed and educated Union; however I have little tolerance for self-serving Union officials. Having primarily worked with AFGE, training has always been a bedrock principle. It is the Union's responsibility to train its stewards and officers. It is also the Union’s responsibility to afford employees an opportunity to learn about Federal Unionism and an opportunity to join. Personally, I would never work in a non-unionized workplace if unionized was an option.

Posted by: laborintensive | January 24, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

It is extremely disappointing to read some of these comments. I consider myself fortunate in that I know what it means to work in a place where the Union does have your best interest. I will only speak from that perspective. I was a Union official for over 10 years. While in that capacity I represented many employees and employee interests from negotiating expanded FMLA entitlements, to onsite daycare, reorganizations, backpay, upgrades, discriminatory practices, serving on Partnership Councils, etc. For the past 10 years, I have been a Labor and Employee Relations Specialist. Believe me - Unions do not hold the market on laziness. One of the significant problems in the workplace is disempowered, uninformed/misinformed and yes "lazy" supervisors. Many supervisors simply do not know how to be a positively effective supervisor. This must be taught. I have trained hundreds of supervisors on labor and employee relation issues and I speak from that perspective. There is a significant problem where there is insufficient communication between supervisors and employees. I can't tell you how many times I’ve heard that a supervisor failed to communicate performance expectations to their employees or failed to discuss leave expectations and entitlements. It is easy to blame the Union for "getting" a "bad" employee off. However, that should not be the main focus; rather what didn't Management do to ensure that poor performers or employees with misconduct issues are appropriately addressed. There is culpability on both sides. One of the main responsibilities of the Union is to represent employees rather than judge and to adhere to their obligation of duty to fair representation. Yes, as a Union official I represented many employees that realistically should have been removed, but for Management's failure to adhere to the collective bargaining agreement, they were thrown out. I can truly respect a well informed and educated Union; however I have little tolerance for self-serving Union officials. Having primarily worked with AFGE, training has always been a bedrock principle. It is the Union's responsibility to train its stewards and officers. It is also the Union’s responsibility to afford employees an opportunity to learn about Federal Unionism and an opportunity to join. Personally, I would never work in a non-unionized workplace if unionized was an option.

Posted by: laborintensive | January 24, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

This is a difficult subject because in this report the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't distinguish between federal and postal employees. Federal civil servants are only about 18% union while postal workers are about 63% union. It isn't true that the majority of federal civil servants who are represented by a union don't join. Out of every hundred federal employees who are represented by a union 78 are union members. It isn't surprising that so few federal civil servants are union members. The way the relationship is structured under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, federal civil service unions are little more than elaborate grievance procedures. There may be a few conscientious federal union officials, but it seems clear from the comments that the majority are questionable at best.

Posted by: DavidDenholm | January 24, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

How about the fact that the original purpose of union representation was to negotiate pay, benefits and working conditions. Since then, the Unions are now a Business in themselves and are more concerned with lossing dues than membership. In Federal work force, most of the items are controlled by Congress and Union influence is minimal to non-existent. You are better off paying a retainer to a labor attorney that pay the expensive dues.

Posted by: wewilson1 | January 24, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

When you see so much fraud/abuse in Government, and when you report it to the union, and management side steps, claiming they are within the scope of the rules, then you just ignore the union and close your eyes to the fraud/abuse.

Posted by: NWS4215 | January 25, 2011 7:23 AM | Report abuse

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