Partnership Failure

October 8, 1996

Partnership Failure

A labor-management partnership at the U.S. Information Agency ended last week when the union announced it was withdrawing from the partnership agreement.

The American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, which represents over 3,000 USIA employees, ended a three-year attempt between agency management and the union to share in the decision making process.

Union officials said the partnership agreement's provision to include their input before major decisions are made at USIA has been consistently ignored.

"The basic response has been that they don't want to include us," John Anderegg, the union chapter's treasurer, said.

Management officials said that they have tried to include the union but are not willing to share core management functions with them.

"Partnership is not co-management," Joanne Clifton, USIA's deputy associate director for management, said. "We can't say we're going to give them co-management."

USIA, the AFGE chapter, and the American Foreign Service Association chapter at the agency, formed a labor-management partnership council in December, 1993. The council did several reports on workplace issues, like telecommuting, which both sides consider successes of the partnership. But the process of deciding staff reductions at the agency angered AFGE officials, who said they were excluded despite the partnership agreement. Management officials admit making some mistakes in the process, but said that they tried to include the union.

"When we first went through reductions in '96, we should have had the information out to the joint partnership council earlier," Clifton said, adding that they lost a lot of time to the furloughs and snowstorms at the beginning of the year. "But this is new ground for everybody."

In June AFGE asked to take part in meetings of USIA's Resource Management Committee, which makes recommendations to the agency's director on budget issues. Director Joseph Duffey responded two months later, rejecting the request. Clifton said that the labor-management partnership council can create a set of recommendations that the director would review at the same time it reviews the resource committee recommendations. She said the agency allowed the union the same information that was available to the resource committee.

Anderegg said the debate over the union's role in the partnership came to a head in August when the Arts America program was eliminated without their input.

"There's a certain element of disrespect here," Anderegg said.

Anderegg said management dodges the union every time it pushes to be involved and that responses to union requests, particularly from director Duffey, are "wishy-washy."

"To use the word concrete in the same sentence as Mr. Duffey is impossible," Anderegg said.

Clifton said the union has always publicly viewed its relationship with the agency as confrontational. She said it was disappointing that the union was not willing to hang in through the rough times. "We need to make sure this is just a rest stop on the path to partnership," Clifton said. "I'm not willing to say it's over."

Anderegg said the union will wait to see if a new set of political appointees in the next administration is more committed to labor-management partnership.

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