National union leaders seem to have a tendency to see the world as black or white.  They refuse to recognize the world’s gray despite the fact that unions are all about pointing out to agency management the foggy gray areas when it proposes to terminate a member. As a result, top union leaders often terminate non-unit staffers unprotected by collective bargaining agreements when something far less punitive would do the job. Although the extreme extermination option makes them feel morally superior to others and even gives them a rise, here is how they are hurting their union:

  1. They are handing agency negotiators a very good argument why bargaining unit employees should not receive any discipline protections beyond those provided by statute. Why? Because by refusing to give all union staffers due process and access to arbitration the union leaders are declaring that those things excessively harm their ability to manage.
  2. Moving right to the termination option results in tossing out the window an asset the members spent hundreds of thousands to develop without getting anything in return.
  3. Given that most union staffers in non-unit positions have higher than normal responsibilities and skills within the total staff, termination often strips union members of a great negotiator, litigator or even lobbyist right when they are needed the most. That is a gift to agency management.
  4. Leaving a large number of union staffers unprotected from arbitrary and instantaneous termination gives the top union leaders near ownership control over those employees. Those staffers can be ordered to do anything to the members and local leaders of the union under fear of their family losing its livelihood instantly.

There are a number of ways to stop these things and one of them is to amend the union constitution to limit the top union leader’s ability to terminate staffers for any reason that s/he wishes.  For example, we have drafted below proposed amendments that could be adopted to give the union’s non-unit staffers the same protection all other union staffers have as well as all union members have.

Section X –

  1. All staff members not covered by a negotiated collective bargaining agreement with ____ and who have been employed by the union in a unit or non-unit position for more than a year have the right to challenge any disciplinary action to final and binding arbitration before a certified neutral. The neutral is empowered to resolve all procedural and substantive issues as well as grant any appropriate remedy. The core issue shall be whether there was just cause to discipline the employee and impose the penalty. Costs will be split equally between the employee and ____, although the employee’s costs will be capped at $5,000.00.  The procedures to be followed will be those negotiated with the union of staff employees, absent mutual agreement between ____ and the non-unit employee, who shall stand in the place of the staff union under those procedures.
  2. This entitlement is retroactive to January 1, 2023.
  3. In no case may an ____ employee be asked by an ____ official (or representative of said official) about his or her sexual orientation, activity or past.
  4. All discipline imposed on staff shall be done progressively to achieve corrective rather than simply punitive ends, absent a preponderance of cause otherwise.

Black and white union leaders need checks and balances.  That should include, at a minimum, making them justify their harmful actions against any employees just as they demand agency management does.  They may have a need to feel morally superior to others, but let them feed that need outside the union. Otherwise, they are handing agency officials an advantage at the bargaining table and elsewhere that they do not deserve.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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One Response to

  1. Dennis T. Murakami says:

    This is an argument in the abstract which makes it difficult to understand the issue as well as the scope of the issue. It appears the opinion originated because a union staffer was summarily relieved of his/her duties by a union president. If so, this should be stated. I agree with the sentiment that it is hypocrisy for a union leader to not practice the same employee centric considerations that we demand from employers. But, this is the great flaw of the union movement where union leaders are very much autocratic in an effort to preserve a sinecure. While your proposed language may prevent arbitrary and capricious employment related actions by a union leader, the union movement is better served by more transparency in all actions undertaken by union leaders and by providing the rank and file with direct and meaningful input into executive actions taken by union leaders.

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