IS AFGE THE UNION OF THE CENTURY?
That is what one reader suggested. So, we decided to look into how it has done since the year 2000. The most powerful piece of evidence supporting the reader’s claim is the increase in AFGE’s membership since 2000. AFGE reported 197,096 members in the year 2000. In FY 2018, the latest report, it reported 332,977 members. The only way to describe that is with the word WOW! Our unofficial count shows that AFGE has had a net increase in dues paying members greater than all the other federal sector unions combined did this century. AFGE unquestionably has figured out how to motivate through values and incentives leaders and staff up and down the line to build membership—the lifeblood of any organization. If all the other unions in the country had grown the way AFGE did this century, our national values would be very different than they are today.
The numbers show similarly impressive results in connection with its representation efforts. For example, one electronic case reporting service shows that since 2000 AFGE filed 557 unfair labor practice charges with FLRA that the General Counsel thought worthy enough to take to hearing. All the other federal sector unions together just barely filed a few more than 557 since the turn of the century.
Its organizing staff has similarly distinguished itself. It pioneered the idea of forming non-profit associations for groups of federal employees who were not allowed to organize into a union. This enabled it to build support while it lobbied to change the law so that association members could turn into collective bargaining locals. This gave it a big head start over other unions in organizing drives.
Rather than rely on regularly posting and passing out paper flyers to solicit new members, it marked the new century by developing the first membership building strategic plan that got the entire organization headed in the same direction. Given that it has over 900 locals, 12 full-time district vice presidents with their own staff, and more than two dozen councils with their own staff, getting everyone moving toward the same goal has been vital to its success. It was far from easy, but AFGE’s top leaders obviously had the courage to risk the political resistance. It is one thing for a leader to value most being liked while it is another to value being successful.
Financially, there have been mixed results at AFGE. The amount of money it takes in each year, i.e., $143 million, also exceeds that of all the other federal sector unions taken together. However, its assets-to-liabilities ratio is troublesome. In 2000, its assets exceeded its liabilities. As of the end of 2018, its liabilities are twice as large as its assets, i.e., $80 million versus $40. This is primarily due to providing its staff with health insurance when they retire and a defined benefit pension plan. While socially commendable, it is an issue that needs the union’s very serious attention lest the 600.000 plus feds the union represents suffer.
So, in the end we will concede that there is a lot of evidence supporting our reader’s conclusion that AFGE can claim many impressive accomplishments since 2000. But we are not ready to agree with her bottom line conclusion. After all, NATCA has a much higher percentage of the people it represents paying dues, POPA has litigated more cases per member than AFGE and set some of the most important precedents favoring unions, and other unions are managing their staff pension and health insurance obligations in ways that do not create troublesome liabilities.
Nonetheless, we offer a huge BRAVO to AFGE for the union it has become this century.