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OMB employees seek work-life balance via union vote

Columnist

The Office of Management and Budget is a small agency that punches way above its weight.

Its nose is in everybody’s business, its hand on everyone’s budget. That means the small staff works long hours. Although the employees know that comes with the territory, they also believe a better work-life balance can improve work productivity while enhancing their home life.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns. View Archive

OMB employees, at least some of them, think a union is the road to better balance. Voting to form a union began Wednesday with more balloting Nov. 1. A union organizing Web site says 243 of 389 employees are eligible to vote.

What the agency lacks in size, it overcompensates for in power. OMB is part of the executive office of the president, and its policies affect all executive branch agencies. The work is very demanding, sometimes an all-day, all-night affair.

“They have a lot of crises, and if they have to work 24 hours in a row on a budget matter . . . they don’t want it taken for granted that home life suffers,” said Peter Winch, deputy director of field services and education at the American Federation of Government Employees.

OMB communications director Kenneth Baer said: “The administration is a strong supporter of the right of workers to organize. It is up to the people working at any bargaining unit to decide if they want to join a union or not.”

OMB did not fare well in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey released last month. In the key “job satisfaction” index, OMB ranked 30 of 37 agencies. At 36, it was almost last in “leadership and management.” It ranked 32 in “results-oriented performance culture.” Its best rating was 22 in “talent management.”

Employees involved in the campaign to join AFGE are keeping a low profile. None agreed to speak to the Federal Diary, even on a not for attribution basis.

The site includes a list of the “top reasons to create a union at OMB.” The primary message communicated by the list is that OMB employees want to enjoy life more as they work their butts off. Here’s the list:

“We want OMB to be the most efficient and effective agency in government and believe that the dedicated employees who work there can be trusted to be a part of creating that success.

“We want staff to be represented and have a seat at the table when decisions are being made [that affect] our work and our work-life.

“We want fair and equal employee treatment across all Divisions and Branches. Some parts of OMB have found a way to balance employee flexibility with getting our jobs done well. We want to share that success across the organization, and not take away any current flexibilities that some employees already enjoy.

“We want to promote our continued efforts of diversity and cultural awareness.

“We want fair compensation for extra work hours with a common comp time policy that is fairly used by branch chiefs.

“We want flexible work schedules and a formal policy.

“We want fair and just working conditions.

“We want to improve work environment conditions, office space.

“We want to improve our quality of life and our reputation by becoming more efficient at doing our jobs.

“We want to reduce our turnover. OMB is not the right place for everyone, but we shouldn’t be losing so many great employees because of basic workplace issues. We can help our management focus on retaining our high quality staff by modernizing some of our employee policies.”

NCUA contract

The National Credit Union Administration and the National Treasury Employees Union will sign a three-year contract Tuesday.

According to NCUA, “the agreement will modernize the employee benefits package to make it competitive with the other federal financial regulatory agencies” and “to offset the costs of the benefits, the employees agreed to a pay freeze that is not statutorily applied to NCUA.”

The contract creates a new 401(k) retirement plan, to which NCUA will contribute 3 percent of an employee’s salary. The agency also will reimburse employees a set amount for health, dental and vision premiums.

Whistleblower data

Two agencies can’t agree on whistleblower data, and the Federal Diary is caught in the middle. A column last week said the Office of Special Counsel “won no stays from [Merit Systems Protection Board] in 2008, 2009 or 2010.” That information came from Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, who cited her agency’s annual report.

Stays, in this case, temporarily block agency action against federal whistleblowers.

MSPB says the OSC’s information is not correct. According to William D. Spencer, MSPB clerk, OSC requested no stays in fiscal 2008. “In FY 2009, there was one initial stay request, and it was granted by the board. In FY 2010, there were two initial stay requests, and they were both granted by the board.”

Lerner doesn’t back down and neither does Spencer.

Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter @JoeDavidsonWP

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