When she came to the American Federation of Government Employees convention on Monday, Del. Barbara Hutchison was a young attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Atlanta. Caught up in the political swirl, she agreed on Tuesday to run for the job of director of AFGE'S Women's Department. It pitted her against Louise Smothers of Washington, the department's popular long-time director.
On Wednesday the 1,000 delegates representing members of the government's largest union began voting for new officers. Hutchinson left the convention when it adjourned -- but before the results were in. She figured she had no chance to win, and had friends to see. When the word came that she had been elected -- indeed was top vote getter with 123.943 (against 72.625 for Smothers) -- Hutchison was literally one of the last people to know she had a new job.
Advised that she won the new post, Hutchison, a specialist in civil liberties litigation, went to work about midnight reorgainizing her new department. "My boss is going to fall over when she finds out what happened." dsaid Hutchison. "She didn't know I was going to run. I didn't know I was going to run!"
Overnight success or beneficiary of a very smooth campaign, Hutchison next month will move to Washington to take over one of the jobs with the biggest potential in this AFL-CIO organization. It has nearly 300,000 members, is the largest labor organization in the Washington area, and at least half its members are women.
Hutchison hopes the convention will double her budget. The department now gets a nickel per pay period, that is every two weeks, from each member's dues. She wants to increase the services to AFGE women and to get more women into the AFGE.
One of her first goals is to develop a handboook that will advise gevernment women of their rights -- on and off the job -- and tell them how to handle sex discrimination problems if they feel they are short-changed in pay, promotiions or training.
Hutchison hopes to develop an "old girl network" that lets AFGE have a great say-so in placing women in middle and top management jobs. "Whether it is a system where we recommend candidates to federal agencies, or simply alert women of job openings and send them over to apply, we want the input."
One of Hutchison's first fights maybe for equal pay within the union itself. Most department heads are paid at the grade 14 level ($34,713 to $45,216). However the head of the women's department, unless the convention votes to raise the job level, is a grade 12 ($24,703 to $32,110).
One of the major unresolved items on the convention agenda is a proposal for a substantial dues hike. Like more other federal and postal workers, AFGE members dues are extremely low ($4 to $5 a month) when compared to the dues tab in the private sector. Federal unions (outside the postal service) cannot bargain over wages or most fringe benefits. And striking Uncle Sam is asking for immediate dismissal, and a $1,000 fine and/or a year and a day in jail.