Bill targets union dues deductions

Joe Davidson
Columnist June 6, 2011

The latest note in the House Republican drumbeat to weaken federal labor organizations has been struck by Rep. Tim Scott.

The South Carolina freshman says he wants to empower federal employees by prohibiting the government from automatically deducting union dues from their paychecks.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Union leaders say it’s an effort to kill labor organizations.

“This legislation would increase employees’ freedom by allowing them to choose to pay union dues rather than having them taken out of employees’ paychecks before the workers even see the money,” Scott said in a news release. He calls his bill the “Empower Employees Act.”

Federal employees, however, already have the power to decide whether they want the payroll deduction. They indicate their desire for automatic deductions by filling out Form 1187, “Request for Payroll Deductions for Labor Organization Dues.” That form also tells employees how they can stop the deductions.

It’s worth noting that even if employees choose to withdraw from automatic dues payments, the unions are still legally obligated to represent them.

If the legislation were to become law, it would be “a dagger” to the heart of federal unions, said Matthew Biggs, political and legislative director of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, which represents civilian workers with the Navy, Army Corps of Engineers and NASA.

“That’s union-busting at its best,” Biggs said.

The Scott bill is the latest Republican legislation aimed at federal unions. On Wednesday, the House federal workforce subcommittee held a hearing on legislation, introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), that would prohibit labor organization representatives from doing certain union work on government time. The practice is allowed because unions are legally required to represent employees who pay no union dues or fees for union services.

On Thursday, the House approved legislation that would prevent the Transportation Security Administration from bargaining collectively with its employees. The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, the two largest federal labor organizations, are campaigning to represent about 44,000 officers who screen passengers and baggage at U.S. airports.

William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said “it is laughable” for Scott to “suggest that this bill increases federal employees’ rights in the workplace. By law, all federal union membership is completely voluntary. No employee can pay union dues without proactively approaching the union and submitting a form to their agency expressing their will to do so. Congressman Scott and his Republican colleagues know this, but they’re not letting that get in the way of busting federal unions.”

Scott’s office did not return a call asking how his bill would increase the freedom of employees who are already free to not sign up for payroll deductions.

Telework Enhancement Act

Six months ago, President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010. It’s time to see how implementation is going.

“OPM has been working closely with agencies to ensure they have the tools and resources necessary to meet the deadlines of the Telework Enhancement Act,” said Justin Johnson, the Office of Personnel Management’s deputy chief of staff. “We are encouraged by the work they are doing and the progress being made governmentwide. As required by the Act, today every agency will have established a telework policy, determined eligibility for all employees to participate in telework and notified all employees of their telework status.”

A February report to Congress shows just how formidable barriers to implementation can be. “Status of Telework in the Federal Government” cited several barriers, with the need to have offices adequately covered coming in first, according to data OPM collected from federal agencies. Organizational culture and management resistance are closely related, and each was cited in almost half of responses.

These barriers might affect how workers rate telework. Though it gets lots of attention, telework doesn’t rank very high when compared with other work/life programs offered by the government to help create flexible work arrangements.

The 2010 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey said 35 percent of respondents gave telework a positive rating, and 23 percent gave it a negative rating. The figures for other programs include: alternative work schedules, 60 percent positive and 16 percent negative; health and wellness programs, 51 percent positive and 18 percent negative; and employee assistance programs, 48 percent positive and 9 percent negative.

Child care and elder care didn’t rate as positively or negatively as telework; most respondents said they didn’t know enough about those programs to offer an opinion.

Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this report.

melina mara/the washington post

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