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Federal Diary

Blunt Talk on Union Web Site Spotlights Frustration Over Labor Relations Changes

By Stephen Barr
Friday, August 20, 2004; Page B02

The president of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, describes himself as "a very plain-spoken person."

Ron Ault isn't kidding, either.

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Here's what Ault told his union activists about the Pentagon's plan to overhaul workplace rules for the civil service and for unions:

"Our job is to be the irritant, piss ant stinging them on their ankles at every opportunity."

Actually, Ault expects more from his union activists.

"In your workplace, be creative, be disruptive, be a royal pain in the [expletive]!!"

Actually, Ault thinks the solution is for union members to vote for a new administration and replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Navy Secretary Gordon R. England and Kay Coles James, director of the Office of Personnel Management.

"All these neoconservative fascists gotta go!"

Actually, Ault explains, this is what happens in the Internet age. He wrote the exhortations in an "internal e-mail that was never supposed to see the light of day." But the Metal Trades webmaster picked it up and posted his commentary for all to see last month.

Ault, of course, is standing by his words. "I'm not backing off of them. . . . I said what I said."

Actually, Ault added, he might have said it a little differently.

"If I was going to do that in a bigger crowd, I would have probably used different words. . . . I would probably have used less inflammatory words. But it doesn't change the fact that they are neoconservatives. . . . It's all political."

Ault's bluntness provides a glimpse of the frustrations inside federal unions. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress decided to give broad leeway to the departments of Defense and Homeland Security in civil service matters.

Bush administration officials argued to Congress that the times require a more flexible system that gives agencies more discretion in setting pay, judging performance and assigning jobs. In public forums, administration officials made it clear they were tired of second-guessing by unions.

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