First civil service union celebrates 90 years

The National Federation of Federal Employees was established in 1917, as the first government union.

The first labor union to represent federal civil service employees in the United States is celebrating its 90-year anniversary.

The National Federation of Federal Employees was founded in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17, 1917, making Monday the 90-year mark. The union is drafting language with the hope of securing a resolution in Congress commemorating its 90-year history.

"I am proud to have the privilege to be the president of NFFE on this historic occasion," said Richard Brown, the union's leader. "We want to reiterate our thanks to the membership, because they have sustained us throughout the years."

NFFE was formed just five years after Congress passed the Lloyd-LaFollette Act, which overturned an executive order by Theodore Roosevelt that had prevented federal employees from engaging in unionized activity.

Today, the union is affiliated with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and with them, represents nearly 100,000 federal workers in agencies including the Defense and State departments and the General Services Administration.

Since its founding, NFFE has lobbied for increased pay and benefits, expanded health insurance coverage and improved support systems. In 1919, it began advocating a system to classify federal jobs as a basis for determining compensation.

In 1923, Congress passed the Classification Act, which established compensation levels and tied them to certain duties and responsibilities of job positions. According to NFFE, decreases in turnover and improvements in morale were evident across the federal workforce as a result.

From its founding, NFFE also has been a strong advocate for women's rights, electing a woman to chair its first national council. In 1963, NFFE was a major proponent in the passage of the Equal Pay Act, which mandated equity between men and women in the workplace.

Today, the union is a key player in backing collective bargaining and appeal rights of employees. It is part of the nine-union coalition that waged a legal battle against the labor relations and appeals portions of the Defense Department's new National Security Personnel System. The court battle is likely over for most unions in the coalition, with the exception of the American Federation of Government Employees, which is considering a solo Supreme Court challenge of a May appeals court loss. But the other coalition members including NFFE continue to pursue legislative remedies.

"We work for America every day," Brown said. "We have been doing it since 1917, and we will continue for another 90 years, God willing."