TOPIC: Unions and Government

With outsourcing to China, a bridge too far in the Bay Area

In a story that should be a wake up call to policy-makers, outsourcing has gone public. As David Barboza of The New York Times reported on Saturday, seeking out low-wage workers off shore isn’t just for iconic American brands such as Apple, General Electric and Levi-Strauss; the phenomenon is increasingly prevalent among public agencies across the nation. (more…)

Red ink rules in California

Governor Jerry Brown has promised to pull back the curtain exposing the gory details in California’s fiscal chamber of horrors, but the real question is whether lobbyists, legislators and voters are willing to confront reality.

As Shane Goldmacher reports in the Los Angeles Times, every demographic is being asked to shoulder some of the pain. The initial budget plan, rolled out at a press conference this morning, calls for cuts to the salaries of state workers and depends on voter approval of an extension of temporary tax increases put in place by Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. (more…)


Most coverage of General Motors’ future has focused on the Obama administration’s 60 percent ownership of a post-bankruptcy GM. But the United Autoworkers, which represents almost all GM workers, will own 18 percent of the company through their retiree health fund. And UAW gets 55 percent of Chrysler. With the Obama administration pledging a light hand in GM management, does that mean UAW will make management decisions? No, reports the New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse:

…[T]he Obama administration structured the G.M. and Chrysler plans to lessen the union’s voice in management. The retirees’ health fund has six public-appointed trustees and five union-appointed trustees. Though the union health trust owns 55 percent of Chrysler, it will hold just one seat on the Chrysler board. And at both automakers, the health fund’s shares will be nonvoting.

The UAW has often not been the most farsighted union. And other employee-owned ventures, like United Airlines, have ended in bankruptcy. It’s strange, though, that a bailout whose purpose is to lessen layoffs would not empower workers. It’s up to the workers still at GM and Chrysler to show they can make cars that people will buy and won’t ruin the environment. The UAW members have the most incentive — more than the new Obama-approved management team — to show that GM and Chrysler are still relevant.-MB


Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn, known as "Dr. No" for opposing basically every non-military spending bill, has used the long Congressional recess to find a new foe — the 2.5 million federal employees. The Washington Post’s Christopher Lee reports that Coburn’s office has released a report on federal absenteeism that may say more about Coburn than civil servants.

Coburn report trots out a bunch of statistics that federal workers have missed millions of hours of work the last few years. Federal employees unions respond with counter-statistics showing their members are missing only a tiny fraction of their work time. Normally at this point in the blog post I would provide telling stats, but it’s hard to contextualize the figures from either side.

Coburn is an interesting character and his challenging "the ways of Washington" is not without merit (he actually collaborated with Barack Obama on a bunch of war contracting reform amendments before Obama ran for a president and Coburn became sort of a pariah). But he’s resurrecting tired Reaganesque tropes about the laziness of the federal bureaucrat. This makes it easier to continue starving the government — and deterring talented people from joining the civil service. -MB


The rulings of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on key issues, such as denying California a waiver to regulate greenhouse gases, have frustrated members of Congress, state legislatures and environmental groups. They’ve also undermined the scientific findings of his staff. And now, the Washington Post’s Christopher Lee report that staff is breaking away from the EPA’s more than decade-old Labor-Management Partnership.  Read Lee here.


According to the Washington Post, The Department of Homeland Security has elected to end a court battle over the agency’s ability to use a "separate personnel system" at DHS, including the right to assign and deploy unionized staff members without informing the National Treasury Employees Union, the union for DHS employees.  Stephen Barr writes that union officials and some members of Congress were "outraged" by the DHS plan, and have saluted the DHS decision as a victory for the union.  Read Barr here.

Is This A Good Thing? The Unionization of Government

Here’s a thought:  a greater percentage of government employees belongs to unions than do their private sector counterparts.

Much has been written over the past few decades about the declining roles of unions in American life.  This has dealt primarily with the private sector.  People don’t usually think too much about government workers joining unions, as many are prohibited from engaging in the most visible and powerful aspect of such membership:  The Strike!

So — Is this a good thing?  Does it matter?

Karen Rutzick’s article from Government Executive lays out the issue.


Some Union Rank-And-File Willingly Opt For Pay-For-Performance

News out of the Commerce Department reminds me of the fabled man-bites-dog news story.

Just when the pay-for-performance concept is being buffeted and battered in the courts, some Union members at the Commerce Department expressly voted FOR inclusion in the agency’s demonstration project.  This report, by Karen Rutzick of, is even more bizarre, as interested employees joined the Union en masse specifically to turn the vote in favor of accepting this compensation test.

Read the account and let us know your reaction.  How did this happen?  Were Booz Allen Hamilton’s findings judged conclusive and convincing to these folks?  Is that why we see this unusual development?  What’s up with these on-again, off-again new personnel management systems?