In a world of constant change, where convincing national leaders to always do the right thing is a marathon, not a sprint, it takes skills and perseverance to achieve difficult goals. In any organization with an impressive streak, you’ll find someone who’s a driving force, who seems to have been there forever, who knows every nook and cranny, who understands what it takes to press your advantage in good times – and minimize your losses when struggling through adversity.
For AFGE, that’s Brian DeWyngaert.
Brian began his career at AFGE in 1978 as a contract negotiator and labor relations specialist shortly before the enactment of the Civil Service Reform Act. Five years later, he joined our union’s National President Office and later became chief of staff, the position he held for 32 years until his retirement on Dec. 31, 2020.
Brian served six AFGE presidents – Presidents Kenneth Blaylock, John Sturdivant, Bobby Harnage, John Gage, J. David Cox, and Everett Kelley – and directly supported the union’s National Executive Council leaders for 37 years. He was centrally involved in strategic discussions within the union on virtually every important issue.
He helped guide our union through challenges and triumphs spanning seven U.S. presidents from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump, almost eight if you count his work with the Biden transition team.
It’s hard to imagine AFGE without Brian.
“During this short time serving as National President, Brian has been a tremendous help to me,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “He has been the go-to for AFGE. 43 years brings with it a wealth of knowledge. Brian is a walking history book when it comes to AFGE, who has been instrumental in the success of our union. Thank you, Brian, for all the contributions that you have made to AFGE over more than four decades of service. You will truly be missed.”
Through It All
From the establishment of the Office of Personnel Management, the Merit Systems and Protection Board, the Office of Special Counsel, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority, to all kinds of pay experiments and the reform of the Hatch Act, not many people have been through it all, seen it all like him.
Brian is one of the founding architects of union-management partnerships in the federal sector during the Clinton administration. He came up with the title “Labor-Management Partnerships” to help managers and non-managers understand that they are partners who rely on each other to accomplish the mission. This led to the establishment of Labor-Management Forums under the Obama administration and a likely return to this collaborative labor-management approach under the Biden administration.
Under his leadership, AFGE’s membership increased for 27 consecutive years from 169,000 in 1991 to almost 315,000 in 2017 in an open shop environment. He played a crucial role in our successful push to reform the federal pay system under President George H. W. Bush.
When the George W. Bush administration tried to eliminate workplace and union rights for federal workers at the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, he was instrumental in our union’s success in defeating these agencies’ notorious personnel systems and in winning collective bargaining rights for TSA employees.
He led the contract negotiations for the largest federal contract and the first nationwide contract for Department of Affairs employees, which today covers over 250,000 workers. That contract contained a number of innovative provisions, including automatic membership renewal linked to each person’s membership anniversary date. His work helped establish the boundaries of what could be negotiated under the new collective bargaining law.
Brian enjoyed working with local and council leaders across the country. He traveled extensively to attend metros and other local events to provide his support for on-the-ground organizing efforts and to help make us a stronger union.
As chief of staff, Brian managed 13 AFGE conventions, coordinating their themes, programs, and logistics. He ensured that the systems were in place to conduct free and fair elections of officers and floor votes on policy by more than 1,500 delegates at those conventions.
He also testified before Congress and represented our union on TV, radio, publications, think tanks, AFL-CIO, and other non-profit organizations.
Brian is not the kind of person who wears his heart on his sleeve. But the moment we learned we won the run-off union election to represent TSA employees, it was hard not to feel the joy, the pride, and yes – the relief, after a decade-long campaign to win the workers’ and union rights TSA employees deserve. That day, our team was bursting with pride, and Brian was the team leader who directly oversaw the final election.
His work didn’t require him to be spontaneous either, but when we desperately needed a PR stunt for our Dirty Chicken campaign against a new rule that increased poultry processing line speeds to unsafe levels, Brian teamed up with then director Bob Nicklas and showed up in a chicken suit to lead our rally on Capitol Hill.
Brian has unique knowledge about AFGE since his work touched every aspect of our union, including internal communications. He helped create this very publication, formerly known as AFGE Week in Review, to keep our members informed and mobilized. Its articles went on to win awards every year.
Not many people in Washington, D.C. have the same level of expertise and knowledge about labor management in the federal government like he does. He’s a true unionist who’s committed to making our union stronger, helping people improve their lives, and making our government more effective.
So thank you, Brian. Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement! We hope it won’t be the last we hear from you!