Most federal unions appear to be behind on the furlough issue as they were behind on all related pay and benefits issues hammering federal employees. As a former union official, and to be blunt, I can tell you I am not surprised. Most federal unions, particularly at the local level of operations, have no operational plans, never mind crisis operational planning. Writing your Congressman is worth little at this point with less than five days to go. Unions giving nothing but this advice at this stage should seriously reconsider their role in the federal workplace.
Post Furlough: You also have to remember that post furlough, the situation gets even worse. Legislation was introduced by the GOP to continue the pay freeze, increase FEHB premiums, and increase CURRENT federal employee contributions to retirement (no “grandfather”) even for 6c law enforcement. I cover some of this here. In the case of US Border Patrol Agents, they face additional pay cuts in excess of 25% if the agency terminates AUO (Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime), which was actually a selling point for recruiters. Therefore, federal unions should be in crisis mode from now until federal pay and benefits stabilize.
The strategy I currently recommend to unions
- Hope for the best but prepare for the worst
- National Level: Immediately notice the Agency with a Demand to Bargain
- Bifurcate sequester and non-sequester issues.
- File requests for information on all bonuses paid to agency managers and all expenses related to any failed programs.
- Bargain over I&I.
- See if there are other ways to achieve cost savings.
- Get attorneys onboard to prep for impasse.
- Attempt to delay anything that would cause an adverse financial impact on members.
- National and Local Level: Prepare Grievances and ULP’s
- Examine issues for anything that may be grieved or appealed to FLRA
- File timely
- Local Level: Put together a workgroup of union reps and attorneys
- Prepare to assist in mass MSPB and EEO (lesser degree) filings for members; coordinate mass official time use by members in filing their complaints assess dollar cost for use with media
- Prepare to assist in mass unemployment claims for members
- accurate and timely information and communication is critical
- Local level: Put together large groups of members and their families and book every appointment possible with local elected union officials at the state and federal level.
- Hire busses to get them to appointments
- Conduct pre-visit briefings with attendees on how to communicate family impact, community impact, etc…..
- National and Local Level: Media
- Assign a FT media spokesperson; study agency budget to become versed on every aspect
- Prepare and disseminate professional press releases
- Local and regional ads in papers detailing impact on families and communities
- Exploit and/or develop all local and regional media contacts 24/7
- Pick a few “model” families and get reporters into their homes to discuss personal impact of not only furloughs but loss of other pay and benefits (if applicable); get local reporter coverage
- National and Local Level: Communications with members
- Most local federal unions communicate poorly with members. Hardcopy newsletters are dead. Social media should be exploited as a cost-effective (normally free) force multiplier.
- If not already established, a Twitter account and standing website (smart-phone capable) should be established for your local. Advertise this immediately to members. Use Twitter as a standing means of communication. Facebook and other methods are a waste of time in comparison.
- National and Local Level: Consultants
- Consider hiring outside consultants for tactical and strategic counsel as well as technical assistance. They can assist with ULP’s, grievances, public relations, issue analysis and counsel, and a myriad of other means.
Many union leaders I spoke with believe the furlough will not happen. While that may be true (hopefully), this situation provides local and national union leaders an opportunity to demonstrate leadership to their members during a crisis and reassert a long diminishing role. However, sadly, many unions are missing the boat in this case.