Monday, March 20, 2023

Federal workers unionize in wake of Trump-era turmoil

Federal workers who help maintain hundreds of millions of acres of federal land have formed a union.

The union said that the employees of the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters cast 116 to 20 votes in favor of joining the National Treasury Employees Union in the counting of votes held on Wednesday. The new union will include about 200 employees located in Washington and regional offices across the country.

A part of the Department of the Interior, the BLM is responsible for managing about a third of all federal land, which is equivalent to about 10% of US landmass, with the bulk of it in the west. There is already union representation in some of the agency’s offices, but the Headquarters Group is by far the largest union. The union will include workers who manage BLM programs and budgets, as well as administrative staff.

BLM employee Zoe Davidson, who helped organize the union, said agency workers generally love their jobs but want a strong voice when it comes to dealing with Congress and agency leadership. The BLM has been understudied for years, although President Joe Biden has proposed increasing funding so the agency can hire more and fill open roles.

“A union really gives you that sound on Capitol Hill,” said Davidson, a botanist based in New Mexico. “The Congress puts a lot of pressure on us. We always get these congressional requests… but they never encourage us to do this in the budget or in the permanent staff. ,

Activists are also hoping to have more job security and prevent any major unilateral changes from leadership.

BLM employees were cornered under the Trump administration, which sought to disperse employees from DC headquarters to western offices, on the grounds that they should be close to a majority of public land. Most of the workers were reluctant to lay down their lives, and the relocation caused about 300 people – the vast majority of the workers affected – resign or take early retirement, (Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested the attrition was real goal,

“We are under a very pro-union administration. We would love to have more unions.”

– Zoe Davidson

Biden’s secretary of the interior, Deb Haaland, said in September that the agency Restore Your Washington Headquarters Keeping many workers at “Western Headquarters” in Grand Junction, Colorado. Davidson said several headquarters employees were recently hired and are scattered across offices in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City and elsewhere, and they don’t want to relocate.

According to Davidson, the discussion of unionization preceded all the transfer turmoil, but the episode made it clear to many activists that they wanted a seat at the table with agency leaders. Workers at her New Mexico BLM office voted last year to unionize with NTEU, which has led to staff from the headquarters reaching out to her and her coworkers.

Federal workers are eligible to unionize, although they do not have the same rights as their private sector counterparts. They can’t directly bargain over pay or go on strike, but their unions can have a say in the promotion process, scheduling, and discipline, and can make it difficult for agency leadership to make major changes without consultation.

The Biden White House has promoted collective bargaining as a means for workers to improve their jobs, including with the federal government. The administration has opened up on some of Trump’s attacks on unions in the federal sector, and has taken a more diplomatic approach to the bargain.

“We are under a very pro-union administration,” Davidson said. “We have a lot of interest…. We would love to create more unions in the Bureau of Land Management.”

NTEU President Tony Reardon compared the BLM unionization effort to the recent successes of employers such as Starbucks and Amazon, where workers recently won historic labor victories.

“It should come as no surprise that as the labor movement makes new inroads into the private sector, the same will be true for the federal sector, as workers everywhere share the same goal: to be treated with dignity and respect. Go,” Reardon, whose union represents 150,000 employees in 34 federal agencies, said in a statement.

BLM employs about 9,000 employees nationwide – about 95% of them outside of Washington – but there is a Estimated 2,000 Vacancies Thanks in part to the agency over the past federal hiring freeze. Public lands advocates say the agency is chronically underfunded and poorly equipped to fulfill its mission.

a government accountability office report It said last year that several headquarters positions have been open since 2016, and workers have been laid off from their normal jobs to help fill those duties. The vacancies increased after the Trump administration announced the move to the headquarters.

“We saw what happened without a union,” Davidson said. “We’ll see what a union can do going forward.”

Correction: This story originally reported the counting of electoral votes as incorrect. The union won 116-20, not 136-20.


Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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