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Union to file for first-ever election at GAO

A federal labor union is planning to file a petition Tuesday for an election to represent analysts at the Government Accountability Office.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers has spent the last several months trying to generate support from 1,500 analysts at the watchdog agency for an organizing campaign resulting, in part, from discontent with a new pay system.

IFPTE Secretary-Treasurer Paul Shearon said about half of the analysts have filed election cards with the union. On Tuesday, IFPTE and many of those employees will deliver the cards to the agency's Personnel Appeals Board.

Shearon said only 30 percent of potential union members must sign cards for an election to occur. But in the election, 51 percent must agree to bring the union into the workplace. "We're pretty confident going on," he said. "We'll be filing a significant number of cards."

There have been organizing drives at GAO field offices across the country, Shearon said, adding that several analysts at the Washington headquarters have used their paid time off to travel to field offices to boost support.

An election is expected within 90 days of the filing.

GAO declined to comment until the petition has been filed and reviewed.

An election would mark the first time GAO employees have voted for union representation rights in the watchdog agency's 86-year history. IFPTE announced in late January that a group of employees had launched the organizing campaign.

The desire to unionize is partly a response to a new personnel system at GAO, under which 308 senior analysts did not receive a pay raise last year. Comptroller General David M. Walker has argued that the decision to deny the employees the pay hike was based on a 2004 market-based compensation study that determined that many analysts were overpaid relative to employees with comparable skills and experience at other agencies and outside government.

Several employees have maintained that there was little or no justification for the placement in the lower pay band. GAO reached settlements with 12 of the employees last month, offering them promotions, back pay and associated benefits as if they had been promoted as of Jan. 8, 2006.

Shearon said giving employees union representation would provide them with more authority over new personnel reforms. "By having the protection of a labor union, it provides employees an opportunity to actually be a part of the process," he said.

Some GAO employees expressed concern over selecting IFPTE for representation because the union represents employees at the Congressional Research Service, which had a reduction in force that affected 59 employees last year.

"What do CRS' current morale problems … imply about IFPTE's effectiveness as the exclusive representative of CRS employees in matters of collective bargaining with CRS management?" one GAO analyst asked.

Some analysts have said they would prefer representation by the National Treasury Employees Union. NTEU President Colleen Kelley said Monday she is pleased that GAO employees hold NTEU in such high regard.

"They have had a number of issues resulting from GAO's pay for performance system," Kelley said. "NTEU is always interested in talking with groups of employees seeking representation; however, at this point NTEU is not currently organizing in GAO."

Shearon said it's not likely that another union would enter the election, especially since a clear majority of employees have signed authorization cards for IPFTE. "It's highly unlikely that we would have someone else climbing on to the ballot at this late stage," he said.

Reporter Portrait for

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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