Pay & Benefits Watch Pay & Benefits WatchPay & Benefits Watch
Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Federal Union Worries Congress Will Target It Next

RX2 Photography/

After fighting to end a three-year pay freeze, reverse sequestration spending caps and avoid pension contribution hikes for current federal employees in 2013, unions representing the federal workforce are turning their attention to new obstacles in 2014.

For the American Federation of Government Employees, the primary focus could be protecting its own existence.

At its 2014 Legislative and Mobilization conference, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. identified attempts to cut official time for federal employee union representatives and efforts to ban automatic dues deduction as major existential threats to the organization and its ability to fight for its members.

Official time allows certain employees to perform union activities while on the clock at their federal jobs. Cox and other unions have defended the practice as a fair tradeoff for the mandate that requires federal employee unions to represent all bargaining units in negotiations, whether or not they pay dues to a union. Republicans in the House and Senate have introduced several proposals in the last few years to ban or restrict the use of official time. Cox emphasized the need to fight any attempts to pass these bills into law, including by quietly attaching them to larger pieces of legislation.

Unions say that official time is necessary because employees joining a bargaining unit are not required to also join its union, as is the case in some private-sector organizations. When employees opt to become members of a union, they do so by having their pay deducted from their paychecks.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., proposed to eliminate the availability of these automatic deductions. The effort ultimately died, but AFGE is still concerned similar initiatives could resurface. Without the deductions, Cox said, the union would lose its primary source of funding.

Growing the Union

While federal employee unions attempt to stave off threats to their collective survival, they are simultaneously hoping to expand. At the end of 2013, AFGE fell just shy of its goal of 300,000 dues-paying members. Looking forward, Cox says he hopes to double that number.

Cox said having 600,000 members, “is not a pipedream, it’s a goal we can achieve.”

Part of that growth will be expanding the number of bargaining units the union represents. AFGE recently won a national contract represent the Defense Contract Audit Agency. For the first time since its creation 48 years ago, all 3,200 DCAA employees will enjoy union representation.

IRS Bonuses

The largest and most obvious ongoing challenge for federal employee unions is ensuring adequate compensation for their members (Cox said he hoped to make the recent pay freeze the last of his lifetime).

For many federal employees, part of that compensation package is delivered through performance awards, or bonuses.

The National Treasury Employees Union started legal action when the Internal Revenue Service announced it was planning to renege on planned bonuses for its workforce. NTEU and the IRS recently settled out of court, however, to provide reduced awards to employees.

According to one poll, however, the public is not happy about it.

Right-leaning pollster Rasmussen Reports found 68 percent of Americans did not support the decision to partially reinstitute the bonus program, though the poll’s question wording may have contributed to that result. The response is not particularly surprising, however, as the IRS consistently ranks as Americans’ least favorite federal agency. 

(Image via RX2 Photography/

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.