The White House timetable for quick approval of a new reward punishment system for the nation's 2.8 million civil servants has been upset by union resistance to "reform" here, and by the continuing sulking match between the speaker of the House and the president of the United States.
Earlier this week delegates to the American Federation of Government Employees convention here jolted the White House - as well as their own union president - by renouncing endorsement of the "reform" package, which Carter says is a top legislative priority this year.
The big AFL-CIO union, representing more than half of the government's white and blue collar workers was the only major labor organization supporting reform. And its support carried with it the badly needed AFL-CIO seal of approval. But on Monday, the convention, furious over the president's 5.5 percent pay raise offer, voted to reject reform. It sent a very strong telegram of censure to Carter, calling him a "liar" for failing to deliver full pay raises, political activity reforms, and the approved labor - management legislation.
After the union rejection of "reform" - until its pay and legislative demands are met - House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neil (D-Mass.) announced he was cutting civil service "reform" from his list of must - action bills in August. Vice President Mondale - one of the few members of the Carter camp still welcome in the speaker's office - had lobbied hard to save the civil service "reform" following White House dismissal of a longtime O'Neill friend from the General Services Administration.
O'Neill was furious after the firing of his friend, Robert Griffin, from the number two GSA job because of a personality clash with GSA chief Jay Solomon. Griffin, a 35-year careerman, was ousted at a time when GSA is plagued with scandal charges. The speaker was also angry because he claimed the White House had assured him Griffin was fire-proof. Finally, O'Neill felt this showed that the young, "Georgia Mafia" at the White House did not understand who he is and how dangerous it is to tread on the tip of Tip O'Neill's toes.
Last week this column reported - based on talks with O'Neill aides - that the speaker was satisfied with the new $50,000-a-year job the White House had gi* ven Griffin and that O'Neill would not hold up "reform" to punish the president.
But it seems clear that O'Neill intends to "House-break" some Carter aides, and perhaps Jimmy Carter himself. Although President Carter is high on the civil service bill, describing it as a centerpiece of his government reorganization, the measure has little sex appeal in Congress or with the American public. The "reforms" are as complicated and controversial as the "evils" they replace. And the average civil servants is wary of any system designed to make it easier to fire him or her, even with White House assurances that only a handful of incompetents would suffer unemployment.
Another factor the White House failed to reckon with in tis generally masterly job of selling "reform" to Congress and the nation's newspapers is the fact that government workers are increasing distrustful of Carter. Firefighters say he is working them to death with vetoes of a bill to cut their workweek; blue collar workers believe he is trying to cut their pay; postal workers say he interfered in their contract negotiations and held down their pay raises. And white collar and military personnel, including the 400000 in metropolitan Washington, are extremely bitter that the raise Carter plans for October will be 5.5 percent instead of the 7. to 9 percent they feel is due them.
All those frustrations have manifested themselves at the union meeting here of delegates whose 260,000 members include every federal group but the postals workers. Many delegates were sent here instructed to cancel the cooperative agreement the union's president, Kenneth T. Blaylcok, has made with Carter on "reform" Blaylock argued, unsuccessfully, that civil service reforms are coming and that it is in the best interests of the union to help shape those reforms and also get some goodies for its members in the bill.
Strike Talk: There is much talk about strike, sickouts and slowdowns here despite traditional bureucratic reluctance to violently confront management, and laws that make strikes in government punishable by a stiff fine, a year and a day in jail, and dismissal. Delegates have voted to ask AFL-CIO president George Meany, who is in Chicago this week, to tell other AFL-CIO unions in the private sector to back a government strike if one comes. Most of the militant talk centers on a possible one - day walkout which, if successful, could briefly paralyze both the government and the private sector.