Although the government isn't expecting a repeat of last year's labor problems -- when 11,000 air traffic controllers walked off the job -- agencies have been told to update their strike contingency plans just in case.
Many of the government's 2.8 million workers are unhappy with job cuts and caps on their pay and pension increases. But because of economic conditions (and what happened to the controllers) there is little talk from government union leaders about what the government calls "job actions" -- strikes or sickouts.
Nevertheless, the administration has directed top officials to review strike scenarios; to make sure they know what to do if people talk strikes, or to keep functioning should picket lines go up.
The Office of Personnel Management has quietly circulated Management Guidance Bulletin No. 14, "Strike Contingency Plans" to agency heads. It reviews SCP's setup during the Ford and Carter administrations, and notes that the plans of many agencies are inadequate to some degree or other.
In some cases, the bulletin says, agencies are prepared to act only after they have been hit by a strike.
Some of the advice contained in the 17-page bulletin:
* Prepare SCPs for local and national situations to reduce "the number of decisions that are made under the conditions of haste and stress involved in an actual or threatned strike . . . . It should establish administrative policies, anticipate shifts in personnel, and the continuace of or change in services needed for proper response to job actions."
* Determine "how many employes are needed to provide essential services and how to deploy nonstriking employes."
* Set procedures for "prompt and accurate communication with unions and/or employes" to begin "as soon as the job action appears imminent."
* Ensure that agencies are prepared to deal with the press and public in strike or prestrike situations. "Communication with the public in some cases will be as important as communication with employes/unions" the OPM document says.
* Designate the role of key officials in a strike action, and identify "alternative labor pools" who could perform the work of striking employes.
* Establish "security for agency personnel and property" so that employes who want to report for work can do so safely. "Management may find it useful to organize van pools to transport employes across picket lines," the bulletin says, and should make sure that local law enforcement officials and the FBI are aware of the strike situation.
* Be aware of federal no-strike laws. Employes who strike can be fired, fined $1,000 and/or sentenced to a year and a day in jail. The bulletin notes that many previous job actions have been "short-lived (usually a matter of hours)" and often can be handled administratively. However management should be aware of its options if the strike is lengthy or widespread.
* Keep records of strike activity "because management decisions and actions during and subsequent to a job action may depend on information collected during the action. . . . For example during a 'sickout' there is need for baseline data, i.e., normal number or percent of employes on sick leave, employes who called in sick, whether the call was made in accord with established procedures, employes who simply did not show up for work, etc."
The bulletin also contains five "sample" letters agencies might want to have ready. One is a "Sample Deterrent Letter to Employes" reminding that strikes are illegal, and that they took an oath not to strike.
A second sample letter aimed at national union presidents notes the federal no-strike law, and asks them to head off, or stop a strike in progress. Another fill-in-the-blanks letter is targeted for local union leaders.
The final one -- a last-chance-to- return-to-work letter -- is to be sent to employes after a strike has started.
An OPM official said the bulletin is "not intended to throw down the gauntlet or try to intimidate people." He said it is "just common sense to be prepared for job actions. We don't anticipate any," he said, "but then again very few people thought PATCO (the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) would strike up until the day they did."