NTEU Closer to Representing Customs and Border Workers

By Stephen Barr
Friday, January 19, 2007

O ne of the largest union elections ever conducted inside the government has moved a step closer to resolution.

The Washington regional director of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, in a decision issued late Wednesday, said the National Treasury Employees Union should be certified to represent about 30,000 workers in Customs and Border Protection, a major bureau in the Homeland Security Department.

NTEU defeated the American Federation of Government Employees last June -- 7,349 to 3,426 -- for the right to represent the employees. AFGE filed objections to the election, but a review conducted by Robert P. Hunter, the Washington FLRA regional director, found no merit to the claims.

The election was forced by the merger four years ago that consolidated 22 federal agencies into the Homeland Security Department. Many of those agencies had unionized workforces, including Customs and Border Protection, which absorbed the old U.S. Customs Service, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and parts of other agencies. In 2004, the department filed a petition requesting the election to clarify union jurisdiction issues, which set up the showdown between AFGE and NTEU.

Bush administration officials have closely followed the election battle because the union that is certified as the winner will gain a larger voice in workplace issues and perhaps even policy debates on Capitol Hill.

As part of the Homeland Security reorganization, Customs and Border Protection recast many of the "legacy" employees into a new occupational grouping, CBP officers. They work at about 300 ports and border crossings and are widely seen as crucial to the fight against terrorism. Most of the CBP officers came from the ranks of customs employees, traditionally represented by NTEU, and immigration employees, represented by AFGE.

After NTEU won the election at Customs and Border Protection, AFGE filed an appeal that alleged agency managers had been biased toward NTEU and had interfered with the AFGE campaign. CBP denied the allegations, and Hunter dismissed the AFGE claims in his decision.

"It has not been shown that any of the matters raised, whether considered separately or cumulatively, are sufficient to set the election aside," Hunter wrote. "In sum, all objections are dismissed and the certification to NTEU should be issued without further delay."

Under the election rules, AFGE can ask the members of the Federal Labor Relations Authority to review the regional director's decision. AFGE leaders were traveling from a conference in Houston yesterday and declined to say whether they would appeal, noting that they had not read the 84-page decision.

Colleen M. Kelley, the NTEU president, said she hopes AFGE will not appeal and that her union can soon begin efforts to bargain over work assignments, overtime and alternative work schedules.

Bill to Stop IRS Outsourcing

Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced legislation yesterday to stop the Internal Revenue Service from using private companies to collect unpaid taxes.

They cited concern that the outsourcing plan might be more costly than projected and could jeopardize taxpayer privacy. They also noted that the taxpayer advocate at the IRS, Nina Olson, had recommended the IRS halt the plan.

About a dozen Democratic senators joined as co-sponsors, including Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin.

Talk Shows

Bob Leins and Tammy Flanagan, federal retirement and benefit specialists at the National Institute for Transition Planning, will be the guests on "FedTalk" at 11 a.m. today on Federalnewsradio.com and WFED radio (1050 AM).

Stephen L. Jones, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address isbarrs@washpost.com.

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