The current president of one of the major federal employee unions has just announced he is not going to run for another term. That has probably set off a firestorm of interest among the union’s local leaders and staff about whether they run for office. So, I have started thinking about what a union needs in a national president. Here is my take.

COMPETENCE – This involves a lot. First and foremost, one needs to know the rules of the labor relations arena.  That encompasses federal regulations, FLRA and MSPB case law, how the courts can be involved, arbitration and bargaining table tactics, legislative processes, and a lot about the various bargaining units that comprise the national union. A candidate does not have to be memorized, but of the following terms should produce a blank: Douglas factors, jurisdiction, interlocutory, exceptions, interest arbitration, CFR, US Code, impasse, stay, SQA, contract bar, particularized need, reconciliation, SSF’s, super PACs, etc. That alone is not going to ensure success in the job, but it is going to substantially reduce the odds that the National President becomes a puppet of staff members who do know about those things.

CONSISTENCY – Although some folks like the idea of putting in the top job someone who has little or no connections to the organization’s top leadership responsibilities and who can bring a ‘fresh look” at the job, that usually only works out in fiction novels—and badly written fiction at that. Past experience, especially working elbow-to-elbow with several past unions presidents gives one an invaluable base from which to draw on the best practices and to discard the worst.  There is a big difference between what the guy who played alongside a Michael Jordon, LeBron or Taurasi learned, and the team manager who watched the game from the bench or stands. If nothing else, the former knows how to endure the bruises and throw an elbow without getting caught.

COMMITMENT –  Don’t take the job, or let anyone into it, unless there is a deep passion for unionism and employees.  It is all fine and well to project a cool and calm CEO exterior in certain situations, but there are also times that call for a grittier more passionate approaches.  Find that in a candidate and you have a true asset.

CONSENSUS– Finally, it sure does help if the candidate for the job is widely known and respected by a large share of the voting delegates who are going to determine who gets the job.  Some candidates are not strong enough to discourage lots of fringe candidates from running. And while no one should be denied the right to run, it does wonders for post-election solidarity if the choice was between two or three candidates rather than thirty.  An election loss is a bitter pill to swallow—even when you are not claiming the election was machine-rigged by Venezuelans.  That pill often produces division and resentment after the election. That is why so many top-level union elections are arranged by the outgoing incumbent well before anyone knows he is leaving the job. Most people will jump out of the way when they see a truckers’ convoy bearing down on them.

While it is going to be interesting to see how this particular National President race pans out, we are going to watch it for lessons for all unions.


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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2 Responses to

  1. Derrick says:

    Sounds like NTEU could use you Frank!

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