High Hopes for a New Friend in the White House

They have a variety of concerns they want acted on after the new administration takes office in January. They expect to have a new friend in the White House and a greater number of buddies on Capitol Hill, with the increased Democratic margin in Congress.

"The only thing the unions are looking for Obama to do is be fair," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "We understand that he's not going to be in lock step with our positions on everything."

In a call with reporters as well as a news release issued yesterday, Gage placed great emphasis on efforts to secure collective-bargaining rights for airport screeners employed by the Transportation Security Administration.

He cited an October letter to Gage from Obama that said advocating for transportation security officers "to receive collective bargaining rights and workplace protections will be a priority for my administration."

That's the first item, Gage said, on "a huge plate in front of us of issues that we think we need to correct."

The union has hired 35 business agents to set up locals in airports. "We're going to step out real hard on the TSA," Gage said.

Not to be outdone, Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said her organization is chartering two new Florida chapters for screeners, one at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and another at Miami International Airport. With three additional chapters the union plans to charter by the end of November, she said NTEU would represent approximately 2,000 TSA employees nationwide.

"I am optimistic," she said, that the effort to organize screeners "will be successful under an Obama administration."

She also said she hoped Obama would reestablish a program like the partnerships President Bill Clinton undertook with unions. Under it, federal agencies set up local labor-management councils, worked with unions to identify problems and solutions, and trained managers and union representatives in alternative dispute resolution.

A National Partnership Council was established to oversee the program. The results were mixed -- the idea took hold in some places, not in others. The program and the council were dissolved soon after President Bush took office.

Gage released a series of letters from Obama that outline his positions on various federal labor related issues. The letters, Gage said, can serve as "a baseline for accountability with the new administration."

· The Pentagon's pay for performance system: Obama said he was concerned about a disconnect between pay and performance, forced distribution of performance ratings and suppression of wages in the National Security Personnel System. As president, he said, he would substantially revise the system's regulations "and strongly consider a complete repeal."

· Social Security Administration: Obama said there was a critical need to increase funding for the agency because its staffing has fallen as its beneficiary population has increased.

· Veterans Affairs: Obama promised to "address the VA's personnel policies that have greatly eroded the . . . collective-bargaining rights of nurses and doctors and other providers who work in VA medical facilities."

Beyond the specifics, the leaders of the two largest federal unions welcomed an improved labor-management environment they expect will accompany Obama's move to the White House.

"President-elect Obama has said that he wants to make public service 'cool' again," Kelley said.
He has the personality and the soaring rhetoric to do it.

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