At the GAO, a Union First



Unlike most unions in the federal workplace, the union can negotiate pay. The GAO and the union reached an agreement on pay in February, but that was a limited deal that did not cover other conditions of employment, including such things as arbitration measures and dues withholding procedures. Those are included in the tentative collective-bargaining agreement reached on Friday.

The agreement at GAO is an example of how organized labor in the federal government has grown during the Bush years, even while union membership in the country generally has declined. The National Treasury Employee Union says its membership rose almost 9 percent during that period and the American Federation of Government Employees boasts a 15 percent increase since President Bush took office.

"They are joining in large numbers," said Brian J. DeWyngaert of the American Federation of Government Employees. "The momentum there is growing."

He cited improved union communication and recruiting, plus the Bush administration's efforts to replace the General Schedule classification system with a pay-for-performance operation that many employees simply don't trust.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union agreed. "This administration's anti-employee policies inspired many employees who had not joined the union in the past to sign on," she said, "and those who were members became even more active."

The issue of pay -- particularly how it was determined -- was a key element in pushing GAO employees to form a union, according to both management and union officials. But it wouldn't be right to blame that on Bush.

It was a Clinton administration appointee, former GAO head David M. Walker, who so upset employees with his changes to the agency's pay-for-performance system that House and Senate federal workforce committees held a rare joint hearing on the issue last year.

As a result of changes Walker made, some employees did not get a raise in part because they were deemed overpaid when compared to private-sector workers. Legislation enacted last month provided raises and a lump-sum payment to GAO workers, along with providing a "floor guarantee" to those whose performance at least "meets expectations."

"That was the primary pain point," said Ronald La due Lake, chairman of the union's interim council.

For Gene L. Dodaro, the acting comptroller general, the experience under Walker sent a message.

"We definitely learned some lessons," he said, "from our pay-for-performance implementation."

Divvying Up Raises


Speaking of pay, a favorite topic for Federal Diary readers, the Federal Salary Council yesterday recommended that a 3.9 percent federal pay raise, approved by Congress, be split for General Schedule employees, with 2.9 percent paid across the board and funds for the additional percentage point divided up by locality.

The council, consisting of union officials and pay experts, recommended, as it has in the past, that all GS employees in the contiguous 48 states get at least part of the locality payout, with higher raises going to employees in metropolitan areas where federal pay is the farthest behind the private sector's. According to the latest "pay gap" figures released at the council's meeting, employees in the Washington-Baltimore area would stand to receive the second-highest increase, trailing only employees in the San Francisco area.

The recommendations now go to a higher-level body called the President's Pay Agent, which in turn will report to Bush later this year.

The council also recommended no changes in the locality pay boundary lines, despite hearing requests to move several areas into higher rate metropolitan zones. The council sent that issue to a working group, along with the question of what to do about anomalies that can skew pay gap figures, such as large incentive payments made by some private companies.


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