Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Federal Employees: A Cash Cow for the Unions

"What a deal!  I shoulda thought about this scam!  What a deal!  They don't bother to buy judges, they buy politicians!"  
I remember a day when I was young and JFK was President that we had an extended family dinner...a reunion of sorts.  One of my cousins that was at least 20 years older than me was there and he was very happy about President Kennedy issuing an order that allowed for public sector unions in the Federal government.  My father, a farmer and rancher, did not look favorably on unions and always kept his peace rather than say anything that would cause an argument; but my cousin, who was working as a union organizer at the time, was so excited that he didn’t see the sour look on Dad’s face.  But I saw it and wondered why.  It took me several decades to figure out what my father was thinking back then but I finally did.  Essentially, he could see no good coming from allowing unions to get involved in the government.  Actually, my father could see no good in unions at all as when company wasn’t around he commented that unions weren’t good for anything but driving up prices and taking people’s money.  Of course, Dad wasn’t politically correct and he firmly believed that what you got in life you got because you worked hard and did a good job.  In his mind, unions allowed people who didn’t work hard or do a good job to have job security that they didn’t deserve.  
When you look at the history of unions, however, it’s hard to say that unions were always unnecessary (and I’m not saying that they are totally unnecessary now).  To the contrary, unions were very necessary at the beginning of the industrial revolution when the economic class distinctions within the United States and elsewhere in the now developed world were stark.  Unions can rightly be credited with helping destroy the barriers that prevented the movement between economic classes and allowed for the American dream of upward mobility to come to fruition in the modern world.  The key in the early union movement was that they were formed to provide a balance between the workers of a factory who produced the goods and the owners of the factory who wanted to sell the goods while maximizing profits.  It was recognized in those early years that the workers had a valid position in sharing in the profits while ensuring that the factory continued to operate profitably.  In other words, if the union’s demands made production unprofitable the factory would close and there would be no profit for anyone.  Keep that in mind as I move on to the government.
It is now that my support for JFK during those wonderful days of my youth comes back to haunt me.  I was proud--and still am--of his wartime record and his relationship with the members of the military and that he understood the need for Special Forces; but I’m appalled when I think that it was he that opened the door for public sector unions to operate in the Federal Government.  You might ask why and the answer is simple: The Government does not operate with “profit” as an outcome of its operation.  In reality it is quite the opposite.  A Government manager who does not spend 100% of his budget is considered inept and will likely have his budget decreased in the coming fiscal cycle.  The manager who does spend 100% of his budget, and then cries appropriately about what he could have done if he had more funds, has his budget increased.  Such is the nature of government at all levels but especially at the Federal level.  There’s one other thing to consider in this formula, however, and that is that the cost of labor is never a budgeting factor.  Full Time Employee (FTE) positions are authorized and justified by Congress purely on the mission justification of the Federal Agency involved.  To increase the size of your organization you must show that your agency’s ability to complete the mission given it by Congress is suffering and you can only improve that with an increase in FTE positions.  No discussion of a cost-benefit is needed–something that a business would naturally do–but a justification of mission capability enhancement is required.  It is in this environment that public sector unions exist and, oddly enough, thrive.  
All of my government service was, of course, spent in a union-free environment as either a member of the military or in Federal Law Enforcement.  Neither can be unionized under because as ignorant as Congress can sometimes be, they have never been that stupid.  Of course, some professional organizations have sprung up to “represent” individuals in personnel matters, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association or FLEOA, is one such but they are limited to providing access to specialized insurance policies in case the law enforcement officer is sued, and access to an attorney familiar with the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) rules and regulations.  OPM, you see, is the agency that governs all aspects of Federal employment for all agencies and their rules and regulations codify everything from entering on duty for the first day of work through, and including, retirement.  That includes disciplinary issues, an area that many unions like to trumpet as one of their most important duties:  protecting the employee from wrongful punishment to include termination.  One look at OPM’s regulations governing discipline and you know intuitively that the Federal Government employee is anything if not protected.  
My last years in government service dealt with exactly that area as I handled policy compliance for the Eastern half of the nation for my agency.  It was my job to ensure that all the evidence in a discipline case was collected and then to evaluate that evidence with the appropriate individuals before taking the case and the recommendation of the deciding official to Employee Relations (ER) and the staff attorney for a final review.  Nothing could be done off-the-cuff and everything had to meet the arcane standards of OPM as well as the agency’s guidelines; and, any action recommended had to be balanced with similar issues across the broad spectrum of the agency.  In simple terms that means that the Special Agent in Charge of an office on the East Coast couldn’t fire an individual for a violation that would merit a Letter of Reprimand in all the other offices.  The process was not quick and was rather cumbersome with some issues taking a year or more to resolve, but that was designed that way on purpose.  The multiple layers of review and consultation protected both the agency and the employee from the human factor that can be involved in any disciplinary issue.  It was designed to take personal feelings and put them aside to ensure fairness and it did that extremely well.  It also provided for an appeals process that went up to the agency head before going over to an Administrative Law judge and finally to the Federal District Court.  You should know that this system is in effect for both non-union and unionized Federal employees.  And OPM doesn’t deduct any kind of membership fee from the bi-weekly checks of Federal employees.
Now with all that protection in place for both non-unionized and unionized employees in the Federal Government you might be wondering what does a union do for Federal employees.  That’s a good question.  I always wondered that myself.  
First, an approved union representing Federal employees does do some negotiations on behalf of those employees.  For example, they ensure that the employee is given adequate breaks at an appropriate time during their work day.  (If you’ve ever been in a passport line at a major airport that was suddenly moved to the rear of other passport lines because the Immigration Inspector closed shop after the person just in front of youl was processed, you’ve seen this in action.)  They ensure that the employee is not required to do any work outside their job description.  (If you’ve ever been in a Federal office waiting for someone to return to their desk to help you while watching other Federal employees sit on their hands, you’ve seen this in action, too.)  They ensure that the employees are not abused with having to work unscheduled overtime and that if they are they are paid accordingly.  (If you’ve ever tried to call a Federal office with an urgent question 1 minute after closing and could only get a recording that recited the office hours, you’ve seen this in action.  Don’t these type of things make you wonder where the term “public servant” originated?)  
Now these issues were all a matter of negotiations between the union and the representative of the agency in question.  So what is the driving force behind the negotiations?  Well, for the union it is taking something...anything...back to the employees that justifies their belonging to the union.  For the government negotiator, it is getting it over with as soon as possible with an equitable win-win solution so he can get back to his regular work which is piling-up in his absence.  There is no profit to protect, there is only a desire to keep the workforce happy and, anyway, it’s up to Congress to come up with the tax dollars necessary.  The bottom line is that all the issues are already covered in the OPM personnel manual.  Employees can’t be abused regardless of the union and they do have recourse.  They do get breaks on a regular basis regardless of the union.  And why can’t they answer that phone 1 minute after closing for a 3 minute call if they are truly “public servants.”  With the employee already protected beyond anything in the private sector, why do public employee unions exist?
I’ll let you in on a nasty little secret:  They exist to put public employee money, i.e., tax dollars, in the union bank account on a direct deposit basis every two weeks, month after month, year after year.  They exist to provide the union with a ready and constant source of income for which they do very, very little.  They print up a nice membership card.  They answer the phones and they have their attorneys (the one’s already on staff) pick-up any legal questions that might come up and handle the negotiations which, in reality, aren’t negotiations but bargaining sessions in which one party (the union) has everything to gain and the other party (the government) has nothing to lose.  
It’s the greatest legalized protection racket ever devised.  Every employee is charged dues (depending on the pay grade in some instances but as much as $16.00 per pay period) that are deducted by the government from the paycheck before the employee ever sees it.  The union gets the dues monthly direct from the Federal Government and smiles all the way to the bank.  And come election time, the union bosses spend the money to suit their own interests regardless of the desires of the membership.  If Al Capone were alive today, I guarantee you he’d be the head of a public sector union instead of a bootlegger.  
Now I see that TSA may be organized by March and two different unions are competing for those 40,000 employees.  (See http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/01/24/tsa-screeners-set-choose-union-following-public-sector-trend/)  The why of it is a no-brainer.  The union that successfully organizes TSA will reap a windfall of around $15,000,000 per year in dues for doing very little.  They will tout of course, in their recruiting literature, cases involving multiple AWOLs that they managed to get reduced from removal to a mere 15-day suspension but that happens way too often anyway given the multitude of existing rules and regulations codified by OPM.  (Terminating a Federal employee for anything less than murder really does become the proverbial “Federal Case.”)  The reality of the situation is that the unionization of government agencies is a cash cow for unions.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  And remember, isn’t being done to correct actions by the employer that starves the Federal employee.  It’s allowed to be done by politicians as payback for union support during their successful political campaigns.  That’s why President Barack H. Obama has promoted increased unionization of the Federal workforce at a time when the numbers of workers participating in unions in the private sector is shrinking.  It’s all about payback and using tax dollars to ensure continued union support.  
Like I said before, if Al Capone were alive today, he’d be running a union.  And voting Democrat, no doubt.

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