Federal unions post-election: what’s ahead?

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

Last week’s elections brought about big changes in Congress, but the results might also affect how federal labor unions work with lawmakers. The power shift to Republicans in the House means the committees there, including those that are key to your agency’s programs, are getting new leadership.

Federal News Radio spoke with Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union and Bill Dougan, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees about how changes in Congress may change their agendas.

As legislators and unions roll up their sleeves and get to work, Kelley expressed the hope that the pre-election rhetoric can be put aside and lawmakers can “acknowledge that these federal employees play key roles in the successful operation of our agencies across the country. Things that taxpayers depend on federal employees for every day.”


While Kelley said one of her main goals is to “ensure that the voices of federal employees are heard on Capitol Hill,” a large part of that is to follow up with Congress to make sure “that the decisions they are making are based on fact about federal employees and about the agencies, about their missions and about the critical work federal employees do, and not based on emotion or on fiction or on whatever the inaccurate message of the day is.”

Both Kelley and Dougan agree that top priorities for their unions will focus on agency funding.

“I think we’re going to have to scale back our agenda somewhat,” said Dougan, “and focus on a vital few issues as opposed to a more broad agenda. I think we’re also going to have to look for issues that promote efficiency in government and that result cost savings because those are two areas that Republicans have stated over and over that they’re interested in pursuing so I think to the extent that we can, we need to look for issues that do that so we can elicit support from a Republican led House.”

Kelley emphasized federal agencies need to be appropriately funded. “They need adequate resources to do their jobs. There’s been a lot of talk about cutting federal agency budgets and cutting federal staffing and our goal continues to be to determine what the agencies need and then ensure that they have the resources and the funding to do that.”

Dougan reasoned the higher the price tag an issue carries, the more likely it won’t be considered. He said he would focus on a few low-cost, high return programs. “One such issue that we’re looking at is potentially a telework policy throughout the government,” said Dougan. “I think there’s certainly evidence that that leads to efficiencies and can result in cost savings.”

While there are many ways to save money, Kelley pointed out that a few shouldn’t even be considered, in her opinion.

“In addition, of course we are focused on opposing any efforts that would starve the federal agencies from funding or that would so negatively impact federal employees inappropriately like freezing pay or hiring or enacting forced or mandatory furloughs, unpaid furloughs, of federal employees.”

While the federal pay debate and talk of pay freezes and furloughs leading up to the election may seem like so much sound and fury, Kelley said it really did signify something to her. “It is very real for those who are proposing it, and it needs to be addressed appropriately and seriously and NTEU’s strategy and goal is to make sure that…rhetoric, which some thought it was, don’t actually get enacted.”

Kelley said it’s time to deal with what the taxpayers need and want: get the economy and deficit back on track and “you don’t do either one of those things by targeting federal employee jobs or their pay or their benefits. NTEU’s goals haven’t changed. Our determination, committment, to work with anyone who is in a decision-making position to get the facts out there, we always welcome that opportunity. And I am determined to be in that conversation on behalf of the federal workforce.”