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Unions and Whistleblowers

Unions often speak of protecting whistleblowers. This webmaster is unsure. And the reason rests far from the many union efforts to defeat or circumvent the Hatch Act (limiting political activities by federal employees in an anti-corruption attempt). It rests in the experience of the community organizer Saul Alinsky, a staunch unionist who promoted grassroots democracy in working class neighborhoods in Chicago and other locations. Unfortunately, when he wasn't present, his organizations consistently failed to protect minority rights, and many used members' collective stereotypes to disempower outsiders. Some even tolerated racist violence.

Whistleblowers are often individuals. Those who are union members should, of course, try to avail themselves of union expertise. Support may be greater if union concerns are involved--common health or safety problems or nonunion hires or other collective bargaining issues. Union officials or affiliated attorneys can disseminate whistleblower rights information, and may provide forms or even ghostwrite documents. At the very least, union members need to be aware that they must chose between whatever arbitration route the collective bargaining agreement has established and the MSPB. Deadlines matter and differ.

Unfortunately, legal benefits offered union members may boomerang against nonunion whistleblowers. This is not just, as one former whistleblower feared, that the unions gave up whistleblowers' rights in exchange for favorable recognition (through the FMLA) in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. In early 2001, former MSPB Chair Beth Slavet told Washington, DC radio listeners that union leaders advised her years ago that they brought their "best" cases to arbitration (which cost the union the most money to proceed because arbitrators needed paying, but offered the most favorable results), and the weaker ones to the MSPB. This means that MSPB officials may expect legal writing quality of all whistleblowers, even those proceedingpro se without legal training. Or the MSPB may see well-presented but fundamentally weak whistleblower cases brought by empowered union members with attorneys and ghostwriters, compared with less-ably presented but more meritorious cases brought by non-unionized workers unfamiliar with MSPB processes, and not care to equalize the difference because individuals don't have political clout.

Preferential treatment of union members (or, for example, clients of former MSPB high officials), if such is in fact hidden by the MSPB's secrecy, would raise many concerns. If only unions have the financial resources to pursue effective appeals, justice is ill-served. Likewise if only they or the high former officials know the MSPB's idiosyncratic "informal" procedures (which resemble those rejected by real federal courts decades ago). Since AJs grant very few whistleblowers even hearings, such may in fact only be regularly granted union members. That would be the down side of the MSPB's pride on its labor relations--and its professional unions (including of AJs) are among the government's strongest. While favoritism would not be tolerated in an ordinary, open-to-public-access court, the MSPB's secrecy may well hide much.

Union Weblinks

Bullet Union Grievance Procedures
(unique by contract)

Bullet Association for Union Democracy
Bullet Links to various unions with Federal employees and/unions.htm
Bullet National Treasury Employees' Union
Bullet American Federation of Government Employees

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