Unions call for pro-employee leaders at OPM, labor relations board

Federal employee unions on Wednesday called for leaders who respect public servants to replace the heads of the Office of Personnel Management and the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

OPM Director Linda Springer announced her resignation, effective in August, on Tuesday; Dale Cabaniss, chairwoman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, resigned just a day earlier on July 14. In August, Springer will join Ernst & Young's government and public sector advisory services practice as an executive director.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley praised Springer's approach, if not all her positions.

"During the three-year tenure of Linda Springer as director of the Office of Personnel Management, there were a number of issues on which we disagreed, but we were always able to maintain a professional working relationship," Kelley said. "NTEU will make every effort to work cooperatively with the acting director in the coming months." OPM Deputy Director Howard Weizmann is taking over as acting director of the agency.

Kelley and Springer agreed on the importance of promoting public service, and Kelley said, NTEU would look for the same dedication to encouraging federal employment and respect for federal employees in Springer's replacement.

During the last year, Springer and Kelley disagreed on how best to keep premiums in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program low and whether it would be wise to allow federal retirees to return to government without requiring them to sign dual compensation waivers.

Springer prided herself on keeping health premium increases low, but Kelley was one of several leaders of federal employee groups who called on OPM to take advantage of the Medicare drug subsidy to hold down costs even further. OPM argued that the subsidy would be wasteful and duplicate existing drug coverage.

And Springer also expressed some frustration that union leaders balked at her proposal for rehiring retirees.

"I sound more like a union leader than I do management on this issue," Springer said at a briefing in February.

Kelley testified in May that she was concerned about possible widespread use of dual compensation waivers, and said it was important to focus on the quality of pay and benefits, and on retaining employees, rather than trying to entice them back after they leave.

Springer had sharper divisions with unions who represented Defense Department employees, several of whom sued to stop implementation of the National Security Personnel System.

"When Director Springer took the job at OPM, she was unfortunately thrust into the middle of Bush administration policy objectives that were openly hostile toward our nation's civil servants," said Matt Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. "While IFPTE continues to respect and thank Director Springer for her service to the country, we will nonetheless continue to bring transparency to Capitol Hill with respect to OPM policies such as NSPS."

Cabaniss, originally appointed to FLRA by President Clinton in 1997, was elevated to the chairmanship by President Bush in 2001. She had been chief counsel for what was then the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Services, Post Office and Civil Service.

"With the departure of the current chair, an opportunity now exists at the FLRA to put in place new leadership that is experienced in labor relations, understands and respects the roles and contributions of federal employees, and is willing to deal fairly with federal employee issues," Kelley said.

NTEU has been a strong critic of what it claims is a tendency within FLRA, particularly on the Federal Service Impasses Panel, to favor agencies. That panel's current members were appointed by Bush. The Bush administration has issued fewer compromise decisions and experienced staff and funding cuts. Kelley said the union has tried to avoid impasses so it would not be subject to decisions by the panel.

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