Unions create governmentwide coalition

Building on their success in battling the Pentagon's pay-for-performance system with a united front, a number of federal labor unions announced on Monday a new governmentwide coalition to advocate for federal workers on the policy front.

The Federal Workers Alliance comprises 21 labor organizations representing more than 300,000 federal workers throughout government, according to a news release from the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, one of its members.

The alliance is modeled after the United Department of Defense Workers Coalition (UDWC), created in 2004 to oppose the National Security Personnel System, a Bush-era Defense salary plan. NSPS' days are numbered after the coalition pushed Congress to dismantle the system.

"Everyone's anticipating some major governmentwide reforms coming out of the Obama administration," said William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, who will serve as chairman of the coalition until it can formally elect leaders. "It was our belief as individual unions that it would behoove us and benefit us to come together and form an alliance."

The coalition does not yet include all the major players in federal organized labor. Two of the largest -- the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees -- have yet to sign up. Representatives from AFGE did not respond to the announcement on Monday, but Dougan said the union -- which is a member of UDWC -- already had decided not to join.

NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a statement that the union, which isn't a member of UDWC because it doesn't represent workers in Defense, hadn't been approached by the alliance about joining.

"It speaks pretty loudly that we've got, with the exception of AFGE and NTEU, most of the remaining federal unions with a significant number of federal employees that they represent," Dougan said, noting that 13 of the 15 largest government unions were participating. "I'm certainly saddened that AFGE has chosen not to participate at this point in time. We're going to move forward and engage the administration as appropriate on issues as they come up."

According to FWA organizers, the coalition will focus on proposed civil service reforms that address performance management and hiring, as well as issues such as labor-management partnerships mandated by an Obama executive order. Unions, while generally supportive of reform, have been skeptical of some workforce reform plans and have been ardent opponents of pay for performance, which OPM Director John Berry has hinted in he might explore.

Dougan said he believed UDWC was influential in Congress' decision to repeal NSPS.

"If the unions had not come together and formed that coalition, I do not believe that organized labor would have been successful in repealing NSPS," Dougan said. "We just wanted to continue that type of relationship, to work on other governmentwide issues and reforms that appear to be looming on the horizon."

According to organizers, member unions have agreed not to recruit members from other FWA unions, a practice known as raiding. Unions have often clashed while seeking to broaden their enrollment. AFGE and NTEU, for example, have battled over representation of Transportation Security Administration employees.

"It's very hard to bring everybody to the table, in all these different unions, to work together if we've got internal bickerings and vying with each other internally for membership," Dougan said. "We had to be able to put aside those competitions and those competing interests in order for us to come together and come to the table. Otherwise, we're going to be distracted and hung up, and always questioning each other's honesty and credibility."

Federal Workers Alliance Members

  • American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Association of Civilian Technicians
  • Federal Education Association/National Education Association
  • Federation of Indian Service Employees
  • International Association of Fire Fighters
  • International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  • International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers
  • International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots
  • Laborers' International Union of North America
  • Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association
  • Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO
  • National Air Traffic Controllers Association
  • National Association of Government Employees
  • National Federation of Federal Employees
  • Professional Aviation Safety Specialists
  • Seafarers International Union
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association
  • United Power Trades Organization
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