Defense contracting employees to vote on union representation

Nearly 10,000 employees of the Defense Contract Management Agency will vote in January on whether or not to be represented by a labor union-and if so, which union will do the representing.

The contracting agency was reorganized in 2000 and as a result, questions arose over whether or not its approximately 9,500 employees would have union representation, and which union would speak on their behalf. In June 2003, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled that the issue would be settled on a single secret ballot vote.

On Jan. 12, ballots will be mailed to DCMA employees, who will vote first on whether they want union representation and then on which of three unions -- the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Association of Government Employees or the National Federation of Federal Employees -- should represent them. If a union is selected, it will win the exclusive right to bargain with agency officials over such issues as pay, hiring, job classifications and employee discipline.

An AFGE flyer circulating about the election claims the union currently represents almost 70 percent of DCMA's employees. "No other union on the ballot comes close to having the knowledge and expertise about the issues facing DCMA workers than AFGE," the flyer contends.

Officials at NAGE, which also represents some workers at the agency, expressed concern about the vote. "Depending on the outcome of the DCMA election, our members could quite possibly lose their right to union representation," said NAGE President David J. Holway. "They could also get stuck with a union that isn't of their choosing."

"We know that many DCMA employees are seeking a change in union representation, and we believe those ready for a change will choose NFFE," the union's president, Richard N. Brown, said Monday. "We are the best equipped to represent DCMA employees."

The issue of who will represent the agency takes on new importance as Pentagon officials prepare to implement authorities granted to them under the fiscal 2004 Defense Authorization Act. The recently passed legislation grants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authority to set up new rules governing hiring, pay and promotions of the department's 700,000 civilian employees.

The new law also allows Rumsfeld to limit his consultations to the national offices of the various unions representing Defense employees. Under the previous system, Defense management had to negotiate with more than 1,300 local union offices.

According to NAGE, the labor panel's decision may lead to other federal employees being "forced to elect one union as their representative."

Ballots must be received by the FLRA by 5 p.m. on Feb. 10.