WHY AFGE SHOULD LEAVE THE AFL-CIO
AFGE has been adding members faster than almost any other union in the country—over 100,000 the last 12 years. Obviously, it knows how to organize and how to convince employees to join. So, we want to take this opportunity to argue that it makes no sense for it to stay in the AFL-CIO which prohibits all member unions from organizing employees currently in other AFL-CIO unions. It makes no sense for the Federation’s future, AFGE’s future, or for the employees who are barred from moving over to AFGE no matter how much it would help them. Ironically, it makes no sense for agency leaders either. Here’s why.
Employees Benefit – Let’s start with the bargaining unit employees. If their current union is not doing what they need nor simply not as good as another, they should be allowed to jump to another union to improve their workplace situation. Permitting employees to switch unions will force underperforming unions to get better and boost the funding of those that continue to innovate and improve. Or perhaps they agree to merge to achieve efficiencies rather than face a raid. (We are not saying AFGE is the best union in the federal sector. No one has as high a rate of membership and political action fund raising as NATCA. NTEU is famous for what it gets done with its extraordinarily high percentage of attorneys and other professionals on the national staff who directly service local chapters daily. And single-agency unions like POPA, NLRBU and NWSEO provide a customized focus that a union such as AFGE cannot because of its current political structure and its representation of employees in so many agencies. But given AFGE’s organizing success why deny employees the chance to choose it?)
We have recently explained how the employees of any agency could boost their bargaining clout almost overnight if they were all represented by one union. (See “Our Apologies to the DVA RNs.”) If nothing else, they would get out from under the bargaining limitations of the “vitally affects” doctrine. This was made vividly clear when the DVA in Newington, CT. decided to renovate the work space of the employees represented by AFGE by moving them into the work space represented by NAGE. The employees in both units did the same work. When NAGE made proposals about which employees would now be assigned to various shifts, FLRA ruled that these normally negotiable proposals were nonnegotiable in this case because they would impact the AFGE employees working in the NAGE represented work space. In short, NAGE had it bargaining power limited simply because AFGE had workers in the same area. That is why it is generally better for a single union to represent everyone working for the same employer. Not always, but generally. Check out NAGE, 61 FLRA 593 (2006)
Currently, there are at least four unions in the DVA with AFGE and, even though AFGE is the largest of all the unions by far, DVA employees in other AFL-CIO unions cannot change to AFGE without traveling a tortuous path of FLRA procedural obstacles and union-imposed penalties. How ironic is it that the AFL-CIO “no raid” policy might be the cause of some employees having to put up with worse working conditions than another union could give them?
AFGE Benefits – Now, let’s look at how this would help AFGE. If it was allowed to push the smaller unions out of the DVA, GSA, Forest Service, or wherever, it could devote the extra funds to improving in the areas where NATCA, NTEU and others arguably outperform them. Today, AFGE cannot merge with a union that is unaffiliated with the AFL-CIO unless that union agrees to be part of the AFL-CIO. If AFGE was not in the AFL-CIO, it could pursue such a merger, which would put it in the position to potentially grow by tens of thousands overnight.
AFL-CIO Benefits – The AFL-CIO, which considers itself the house of American labor and the core of the labor movement, would benefit as well because unions like AFGE would be more efficient and offer a better product than they do today. That can’t help but draw more people into unions, which would expand the county’s number of unionized workers.
But if total withdrawal from the AFL-CIO is too much for either federation, even temporarily, a smaller step in the right direction might be for AFGE to convince the AFL-CIO to modify the rule so that member unions can try to take away bargaining units of other Federation unions under certain conditions. For example, if AFGE has two thirds of an agency’s bargaining unit employees today, why should it be prohibited from going after the entire employee population.
Agency Executives Benefit – While we are not as concerned with agency executives getting a better deal, they would. Today, for example, the Department of Veteran Affairs must bargain with at least five unions. If AFGE could reduce that number, agency leaders would have fewer contracts and rules to administer.
Competition has forced American business to improve and innovate or disappear. Sometimes that competitiveness has gone too far, but generally it has made things much better for consumers. Walmart provides more benefits for shoppers than Woolworth, Nikon has better products than Kodak, and the modern hotel/motel industry is far superior to the roadside Holiday Inns, Ramadas, and Howard Johnsons that created the ubiquitous hospitality industry.
It is important to all federal employees that AFGE is in the AFL-CIO, but AFL-CIO policies are limiting the benefits of that for far too many people and organizations. It is time Trumka at least created broader exceptions to the no-raid rule and worked harder at convincing unions that represent employees of the same employer to make a deal that fixes that.