Reader reaction to a union trip to the Soviet Union and the half-day pre-Christmas holiday for federal workers make up today's letters to the Monday Morning Quarterback. This is what people are saying:
I was initially perplexed to read in the Federal Diary (1/14/88) that officials of the American Federation of Government Employees recently spirited off to the Soviet Union as guests of the States Institution of Workers Union. Even though most U.S. labor unions realize there are no free trade unions in Russia, I understand AFGE's hosts are the counterpart union in the U.S.S.R. This means that if AFGE represents prison guards in some U.S. federal prisons, their Soviet hosts must comprise the gulag guard union!
But it became clear to me what the real purpose may be behind this visit, which only serves to legitimize a Soviet government-run company union. According to reports, AFGE is in dire economic straits. Perhaps AFGE is considering merging . . . with that one big union . . . the Soviet Union.
...While there is probably nothing legally or morally wrong with representatives of an American labor union representing government employees taking a most-expenses-paid tour of the Soviet Union, there is something wrong somewhere.
As a former AFGE member, I paid dues expecting the union to represent me and my coworkers on the job and to organize, because there is strength in union. Just how were they representing the AFGE membership on this trip, and whom were they organizing?
R.F., Silver Spring
The trip of AFGE officials to the Soviet Union is a tempest in a teapot. The AFGE union, from press reports, did not pay their way. It was a learning experience, and it is better to talk -- at high or low levels -- than fight. Agreed, it wasn't the smartest public relations move in the world, but beyond that, there is no harm done, and perhaps some good was done.
The Jan. 11 Federal Diary includes a letter from "Tired Taxpayer," the inclusion of which was obviously calculated to produce a full mailbag for you. Here's one response:
The letter purportedly was directed at federal employees who wanted a half-day off before Christmas. With that portal into a legitimately arguable perquisite, "Tired Taxpayer" launches into a generalized vituperation against federal employees. Federal employees are indeed employees of the taxpayers. Hopefully these taxpayers do not confine their efforts to vilification of their employees but instead devote some time toward the electoral process, which produces the managers that direct the productivity of these employees.
Those employees chose a career based upon overall employment conditions in a capacity for which they were qualified under competitive conditions open to all, including "Tired Taxpayer." They did not base their choice upon one consideration such as time off. One important factor was anticipated respect from their employers -- or at least some restraint in sour-grapes ranting. "Tired Taxpayer" will get what "Tired" pays for, including paying some respect. "Tired Taxpayer" can also get any presumed cushy federal job for which he is qualified, and help by providing supervision of these fancied sloths.
M.B., Falls Church