Unions in face-off to represent Customs, Border employees
Two major federal labor unions are fighting to represent a significant chunk of Homeland Security Department employees.
The National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees have been allies in a battle against proposed DHS personnel reforms, but will compete in an election for sole representation of Customs and Border Protection workers, the Washington regional director of the Federal Labor Relations Authority decided Friday. The election will not affect Border Patrol employees, who are represented by AFGE.
CBP officials asked the FLRA to help trim the number of unions representing the bureau's employees to one.
NTEU and AFGE had been working toward an agreement to split representation of CBP employees, but the negotiations fell apart when NTEU moved to support an election. Currently, NTEU represents about 12,000 CBP employees and AFGE represents about 6,000. About 2,000 former Agriculture Department inspectors are represented by the National Association of Agriculture Employees.
"I'm confident that NTEU has the right structure, the proud history and a 30-year record of accomplishments on behalf of the men and women of the former U.S. Customs Service to be the right choice for CBP employees," said NTEU President Colleen Kelley.
AFGE officials said NTEU's decision against joint representation is harmful to employees.
"We went to NTEU and asked them to avoid a situation where two unions are going against each other in this atmosphere," said AFGE national organizer Peter Winch.
All parties have the option to appeal the regional decision to the full FLRA. The election will take place before spring unless any of the groups appeal the regional authority's decision, according to NTEU.
The three unions involved are allies in a major lawsuit aimed at halting implementation of the labor relations portion of DHS' new personnel system. A federal judge on Friday supported the unions' argument that rules proposed by the department did not provide adequate collective bargaining rights for employees.
The CBP employees in question are the only Homeland Security workers NTEU represents. NTEU has been acting as lead counsel for the lawsuit against the department's proposed personnel reforms.
Although NTEU represents the biggest group of employees at CBP, AFGE officials contend that their union is the better choice because it represents thousands of DHS employees outside of CBP, including workers at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard.
"AFGE is the union that speaks to the interest of all federal employees," Winch said. "We're considerably larger than [NTEU] in scope, numbers and in influence. We have more potential in solidarity with the other components we represent."
Winch noted that in addition to NTEU and AFGE, employees will have the option to vote for "no union."
"Any union is better than the 'no union' choice," Winch said.