GAO analysts vote for union representation
The analysts backed union representation from the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers by a vote of 897-445. More than 74 percent of the 1,800 eligible analysts at headquarters and field offices participated.
"This is a great and historic day for GAO," said Robert Kershaw, a senior analyst who voted in favor of the union. "We need to restructure the incentives in this agency so that the talents and gifts of each employee are utilized to the maximum."
Comptroller General David M. Walker on Thursday praised the level of employee turnout. "GAO management will bargain in good faith," he said.
GAO's union will be an IFPTE local, and bargaining unit employees will now move forward to elect a council, write a constitution and determine bargaining priorities. The local can then sit down with management and negotiate a first contract.
"The analysts at GAO are experts at creating efficient organizations," said IFPTE President Greg Junemann. "You can bet that their bargaining surveys and their research will be data driven. This local union will be an example for other groups."
The push to unionize is partly a response to sweeping changes in the agency's personnel policies two years ago, resulting in the division of analysts into salary bands, the elimination of cost-of-living increases for many, and the labeling of some analysts as overpaid relative to the market. IFPTE has said that employees have cited what they consider to be a lack of transparency in pay for performance as a major driver of the organizing campaign.
And unlike unions in much of the federal sector, GAO's bargaining unit will be able to negotiate over wages. Most federal employees do not have such rights, largely because most agency managers are not responsible for setting wages. But GAO's personnel changes gave management more discretion in setting pay.
Still, the organizing campaign has evolved to encompass more than just discontent with the new pay system, said Paul Shearon, secretary-treasurer for IFPTE. "The analysts at GAO are very proud of the work they do, and the majority sent a message today that the union is a vehicle to move the agency forward and do its important work better," he said.
Kershaw, who joined GAO in the 1970s, said he hopes having representation will help restore some past benefits, including an annual art show and an employee newspaper. But most important, he said, would be the opportunity for certain employees to work with congressional committees, an authority that was taken away by former Comptroller General Charles Bowsher. Currently, only senior executives are able to meet with congressional staff.
"Earlier in my career, it was OK for staff at all levels of GAO to interact with congressional staff," Kershaw said. "That's the way they understood what the requester wanted, and the quality of work was much better. The staff felt more a part of the team."
On Sunday, Kershaw and a group of GAO analysts launched a Web site for employees to discuss unionization issues. Ownership of the Web site will be transferred to union officials as soon as they are elected, Kershaw said.
Members of the bargaining unit met Thursday to set interim ground rules until a convention is held to adopt a constitution and elect union officers. According to the rules, interim officials must be elected no later than Oct. 19, with an official convention held between Feb. 25 and April 18, 2008.
"We're looking forward to a great working relationship with Comptroller General David Walker," said Lise Levy, a GAO analyst. "The union will help us to make GAO a true model agency."