Walker Won’t Block Unionization Process

Posted May 8, 2007 at 6:41pm

Comptroller General David Walker said Tuesday that he plans to support a timely election process that will determine whether 1,500 analysts at the Government Accountability Office will form a labor union.

But Walker added that GAO management will take steps to make sure the election does not include votes from supervisory employees, who are not eligible to join a union under current labor laws.

“As I have said in the past, I support the right of GAO employees to organize in a manner consistent with applicable laws and regulations,” Walker said in a statement. “GAO’s management has complied and will continue to comply with all applicable labor laws and GAO personnel orders.”

Sporting business suits and stickers reading “Band Together,” a group of about 40 analysts, acting on behalf of hundreds of fellow employees, filed authorization cards with the agency’s Personnel Appeals Board on Tuesday to request a union representation election. The analysts are seeking to join the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, an AFL-CIO-affilated union that also represents employees at the Congressional Research Service.

“We’re delighted that this day has finally come,” Greg Junemann, president of the IFPTE, said alongside several GAO analysts during a late-morning press briefing.

Added Senior Analyst Patricia Farrell Donahue: “It’s been a long time coming.”

About 1,500 GAO employees would be allowed to join the union, and a majority submitted authorization cards, union officials said. Junemann said he expects a vote will be held in early summer.

Many legislative branch employees, including those at the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office, are represented by unions. But GAO employees never have been represented by a union — or even held an authorizing election — in the 86-year history of the agency.

Talk of forming a union began early last year, when a small group of analysts approached the IFPTE about how they could organize after Walker changed salary policies at the agency.

Walker’s changes divided workers into “bands,” eliminating cost-of-living raises for some and capping salaries for others. The changes were based on a 2004 study conducted by the firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, which found that some workers were overpaid.

In past interviews, Walker has maintained the change allowed salaries to be determined in a market-based, performance-driven system that has saved taxpayer dollars.

But morale at the agency has suffered because of those changes, Junemann said. Some analysts added that many older and minority workers have been discriminated against because of the changes.

One analyst has even taken legal action. In a lawsuit filed in October 2006, James Moses claims management has discriminated against auditors 45 years of age and older by denying pay increases and promotions while demoting and terminating certain older employees.

At the press briefing Tuesday, many analysts said they were not opposed to changing the system but felt left out of the process.

“We wanted a dialogue with management,” said Donahue, who was part of the initial group that approached IFPTE. “We were tired of the monologues.”

Added Jacqueline Harpp, a senior analyst: “We would like to have a voice in the programs and operations at GAO, and we think forming this union will give us that voice.”

Many Members of Congress also have given their support to the union effort. Nineteen Members wrote to Walker earlier this year to ask that the agency work fairly with personnel.

In statements released supporting the union effort, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said he and other Members will monitor the process, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said a union will help protect workers’ rights.

“These workers can count on me to continue to fight to make sure they are treated with the respect they deserve,” Mikulski said.

Walker appears to be complying.

“We are prepared to fully support a timely election process if the union meets the related requirements for a vote,” he said.