Labor Pains Induced by Federal Unions

Article excerpt

The golden age of organized labor may have passed - when union intimidators such as John L. Lewis, George Meany and Jimmy Hoffa roamed the country, casting giant shadows over corporate boardrooms - but union bosses still have plenty of pull where it counts: inside the Clinton White House. If you want to know why, just look at the president's campaign contributions, or think back on some of the ads purchased by big labor targeting freshmen House Republicans.

What have unions gained for their obeisance? One probable payoff is the strong hand federal labor unions have been given in Vice President Al Gore's reinvention effort, the National Performance Review - an arrangement codified in 1993 when President Clinton issued Executive Order The "partnership" order placed government managers and federal labor unions on equal footing and expanded the list of issues federal unions are permitted by law to bargain over.

Part of the problem thereby was entrusted to become part of the solution; the foxes, in effect, were asked to help manage the henhouse. Clinton and Gore weren't unreasonable in thinking they couldn't "reinvent" big government without the cooperation of its rank and file or playing against type in trying to appease unions that soon might be seeing a reduction in their membership rolls. But their Faustian bargain with federal unions, struck in the name of making government "work better and cost less," actually may be costing taxpayers more while reducing the productivity of the federal workforce.

Take the Social Security Administration, or SSA, as one example. There, the number of federal employees working full time on union activities has risen by more than 80 percent since 1993, from 80 individuals to 145, according to a General Accounting Office, or GAO, report, and an additional 1,800 SSA employees are authorized to spend at least some of their workday engaged in union business. Not surprisingly, the overall time SSA employees spend on union activities also has increased, from 254,000 hours in 1990 to more than 413,000 in 1995.

This "is the equivalent of paying the salaries and other expenses of about 200 SSA employees to represent the 52,000 employees in the American Federation of Government Employees bargaining unit in 1995," according to the GAO, and drained an estimated $12.6 million from Social Security last year. …