We may never solve the why-federal-workers-don't-join-unions mystery. But the clues are interesting. For example:

* "You almost had me, Mike. Your Jan. 5 column, 'Plenty of Reasons for Paying Dues,' made me rethink why I never joined. I didn't realize how much they accomplished last year. You made me feel like a 'free-rider,' who benefits from union representation but doesn't pay dues.

"I started to write you a letter, thanking you for 'yanking my chain.' Then I read the Jan. 19 column item about the American Federation of Government Employees presidential endorsement of Al Gore. Now I remember why I never joined a federal union." --J. Cullen

* "Amazing! One day you write a column describing why we federal employees choose not to join the various unions, then today [Jan. 19] you give the biggest reason I don't. Al Gore has been a willing and even eager participant in the privatization of government. So why would any employee union [the AFGE] endorse him? This employee remains cynically uncommitted to any or all of the undesirables running for the office of president of the United States. And any union endorsing a candidate at this point just doesn't get it." -- Al Plyer

* "Your column said that only about 30 percent of federal white-collar workers belong to unions. Today's [Jan. 19] endorsement of Gore by the AFGE is one reason the 70 percent do not support the unions. . . . [Federal law] states that the government will increase pay equal to private industry. The Clinton administration doesn't have to comply with the law. But federal employees must obey the law. I was a union member once, as were many of my co-workers. We are now the 70 percent [who don't belong], and we are not pleased with the false promises and leadership of the unions." - Jim Irwin

* "You wrote a column a couple of days ago questioning why people don't want to have anything to do with unions. This endorsement of Gore is one of the many reasons I will not join a union." -- David Raschen

* "I will not join a federal union until we get the same or close to the same benefits as postal employees. Show a comparison some time. This year's white-collar federal pay increase was not because of the union, but rather the election year. Ask federal workers what they think of the federal dental plan (or lack of a decent one).-- R.T.

(Eighty percent of rank-and-file postal workers are union members.)

* "Unions at the local level are volunteer operations. I wonder if the Department of Education employee [cited in the Jan. 18 Federal Diary, 'Why Feds Shun Unions'] who complained about old information on the union bulletin board ever volunteered to take charge of maintaining it? I work daily with local union officers whose major complaint is that they can't find enough co-workers to take on responsibilities. As a result, information doesn't get out, and some necessary tasks don't get done. It's always easier to bellyache than to pitch in and help.

"Concerning politics, until recent years Democratic politicians were generally more pro-fed and more pro-labor than Republicans (with some very notable exceptions). It's true that now it's getting harder to tell the two political parties apart. But what's the solution? It is certainly not to stay on the sidelines and complain, but rather to become a union member and join the debate. And look for independent alternatives beyond the two major parties." -- Carl Goldman, executive director, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Council 26.

Scholarships

The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund is taking applications for scholarships--available to civilian federal workers and dependents--through March 31. Scholarships range from $300 to $1,500 per student. FEEA is financed by charitable contributions from individuals and corporate sponsors, including Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the Federal Personnel Guide and FPMI Communications. To get an application, go to the fund's Web site, www.feea.org, or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to FEEA Scholarship, 8441 W. Bowles Ave., Suite 200, Littleton, Colo., 80123-9501.

Career Planning

The average age for federal workers is 47. That's when many workers' careers peak. It's also when many are faced with the pressures of children in college and parents who need special care. Younger federal workers have different concerns, including whether to stick with Uncle Sam or move to the private sector.

At 9 a.m. tomorrow on WUST radio (1120 AM), Rick Garnitz, of LifeSpan Services Inc., talks about how younger, mid-career and retirement-age workers can maximize the federal benefits package and plan around its shortfalls.

Agency-Union Partnerships

At 10 a.m. tomorrow on WUST, Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, will explain why most federal unions have embraced the Clinton administration's partnership programs and what union members have gotten out of them. NTEU is the union that won a back pay settlement for thousands of feds who were in "special rate" jobs between 1982 and 1988. Government officials are now trying to figure out how to identify who gets the payments and how much each person will get.

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