About 600 HUD employees had a pretty cool time yesterday during a holiday party at the nearby L’Enfant Plaza Hotel. It was sponsored by Local 476 of the American Federation of Government Employees.
But it wasn’t just the smooth sounds of a tight band that made it cool.
Or the good time party goers had dancing the Electric Slide. Or the tables with cheese cake, carrot cake and that deliciously moist chocolate cake that folks who clearly don’t need another empty calorie crowded around.
What makes it cool is the attitude that flows from the top down and the bottom up.
It starts with Secretary Steve Preston. He’s known for his town hall meetings -- they’re really more like pep rallies -- that he holds by video hookup with employees around the country. He wasn’t there yesterday, but Roy Bernardi, the department’s deputy secretary, did appear and thanked the union members for their good works.
“The employees here have been called on to do more and they have done more without complaint,” he said after his speech. He also spoke about things the HUD bosses do to improve conditions for workers, including a 6 a.m. shift for those who want to start early and leave early, an enhanced plan to help them pay back student loans and training programs.
He recited a list of other accomplishments. Among them: Last year, for the first time in 13 years, not one departmental program was on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list. That list covers programs that are vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. He thanked employees for other programs that saved taxpayers money and he sounded more sincere than bosses sometimes do when patting themselves on the back by praising their staff.
One difference between HUD and agencies places with mission drift is that rank and file and management seem to share a vision -- a vision of making decent housing more available and our urban areas more livable.
“We think we’ll be the ones leading the recovery,” is the way Patrick W. Simien, a HUD lawyer, expressed the positive, forward looking attitude shared by his colleagues. “People are looking forward to the challenge and having a positive impact on the economy.”
While it’s common for the brass at agencies to talk about how great things are, in HUD’s case, the union organizers have some pretty good things to say too. “We have decent, moderate Republican leadership,” said Eddie Eitches. Local 476’s president. The Local has deep penetration, with about 1,100 members in a bargaining unit of 1,800 employees, according to Eitches. His comments are high praise coming from a union leader whose members adore Obama.
Their love for the president-elect was shown by the long line of members waiting to have their picture taken against a blank green screen. Through a bit of camera magic, wizards from Event Digital Photography manipulated the photo into a picture of the member standing next to Obama with a Christmas Tree and fireplace in the background.
But it also was a bi-partisan affair.
Rep. Frank Wolf, a Northern Virginia Republican who starts his 15th term next month, was there to greet the workers. So was Rep. Donna Edwards, the Maryland Democrat who was first sworn in six months ago tomorrow. Eitches likes to point out that her victory came after she spent much more time and talked much more substance at last year’s party than then-incumbent Al Wynn did.
Wolf has been a supporter of such issues as allowing workers in the Federal Employee Retirement System to receive credit for accrued sick leave upon retirement and expanding telework opportunities.
Edwards was there to show her appreciation to the union and her dancing skill. “If your voting depended on my dancing,” she modestly told the crowd, “I think I’d still be at my old job.”
But on a more serious note, She reminded the union members that she is the child of two government workers. Perhaps that’s one reason she’s so serious about looking at the types of what jobs agencies farm out to contractors. Too much of that can be “debilitating and demoralizing to the federal workforce,” she said after her brief talk to the crowd.
“We need an aggressive federal workforce,” she added, to oversee expenditures related to America’s two wars and the various financial rescue packages.
After the speeches were done, some workers returned to the office, and the band, East Origin, played an nice rendition of “That’s the Way Love Goes.”
Local 476 knows how to throw a holiday party.
“It’s like a family,” Simien said of HUD. “Everybody knows everybody after you’ve been here a few years.”