If you are an active-duty or retired federal worker who doesn't belong to a group that lobbies on your behalf, ask yourself this: Why not? Are your reasons for nonmembership any of the following:

* You don't like the politics and agenda of the group purporting to represent you.

* You have never been a joiner.

* You are, admit it, too cheap to pay dues.

If you don't like running with the herd, do you bargain for yourself and reject those things (like a bigger pay raise) that some union or association manages to pry out of Congress or the White House?

Two facts: Most white-collar federal workers don't belong to a union or association. Most white-collar federal workers are represented by same. Those groups tell management, Congress and the White House what you supposedly want and think. By failing to join, you forgo voting against policies or leaders you don't like.

Many federal workers fume when leaders they didn't elect speak for them and endorse a political candidate (nearly always a Democrat) or a cause.

Although it's true that not all federal unions consult members over political endorsements, a few do. More would, probably, if enough members made it a major issue.

But whatever your status, in or out, the fact is that one of these groups whose names sounds like alphabet soup--FMA, AFGE, NARFE, NTEU, APWU, NALC, SEA, PMA, NFFE or NAGE--speaks for you. And they did a beautiful job last year. They won--or laid the groundwork for--legislation that will benefit most federal employees and retirees big time. In most cases, nonmembers (known in union circles as "free riders") will benefit, too.

For seven years, most unions (but not associations) went along with the Clinton administration's downsizing and reinvention campaign, which eliminated 300,000 jobs and potential promotions for lots of employees. In effect, the White House was nicer to union leaders and unions as organizations than to individual union members. None of the union leaders lost a job or a promotion or suffered a shaved pay raise.

To win converts for the reinvention campaign, top administration officials often had to demonstrate--in major media events and on TV--that government was overstaffed, ineffective and broken so badly that it needed to be fixed.

The elimination of middle-management jobs (those held by the people who got most of the 130,000 buyouts) means fewer promotions for rank-and-file federal workers and the likelihood that some of the best jobs will continue to be farmed out to the private sector.

But warts and all, unions (and the less-partisan or nonpartisan professional groups and associations) had a very, very good year in 1999.

Even die-hard Democratic union leaders joined in an end run of a White House plan to limit this year's federal pay raise to 4.4 percent. They went with the Republican plan, which yielded a 4.8 percent military-civil service raise. The change will pay off big time (in salary and benefits) over time for federal workers.

Groups representing federal employees and retirees managed to head off proposals to tamper with retiree annuity increases and cut payroll funding. They got Congress to pass legislation requiring agencies to pay half the cost of professional liability insurance for managers and supervisors. They set the stage for group-rate long-term care insurance for federal and military personnel, retirees and some family members. And they blocked a plan to set up medical savings accounts in the federal health insurance program, a plan that critics say would have hurt low-income federal workers. (Backers of medical savings accounts say they would save money for workers, retirees and taxpayers.)

Finally, those groups--with or without your dues--have set the stage this year for a possible modification (but not repeal) of laws that limit the Social Security benefits of some federal retirees.


Gerald J. Markey, director of spectrum policy and management for the Federal Aviation Administration, has retired after 41 years with Uncle Sam. He started out as a radar engineer and became known as the FAA's "frequency guru."

The Department of Energy's Barbara Watson has called it a day after 38 years of federal service. She also worked at the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare and its successor, the Heath and Human Services Department.

Hortense Henderson has retired after 32 years of federal service. She started as a GS 3 clerk typist and later was a public information officer for the Treasury Department. She has met every U.S. president from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bill Clinton.

The Defense Contract Audit Agency has lost two of its best. They are personnel management specialists Geraline Brooks, who had 35 years of government service, and Barbara Coughlan, who had 34 years of service. Each is an award winner who served in other agencies before DCAA.

Terry L. Smith has retired from the Department of Housing and Urban Development after 40 years of service. He was a senior management analyst and a winner of the Distinguished Service Award.

Joyce Vialet, a mainstay of the Congressional Research Service, has retired after 34 years with Uncle Sam. She was a senior specialist in immigration policy and, like her husband, John Vialet, another recently retired fed, is looking forward to not dealing with rush-hour traffic.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com