AFSA Labor Management Policies

AFSA Policy Regarding Provision of Labor Management Services

Governing Board Approved 10/05/2016

I. Overview

  1. Pursuant to Chapter 10 of the Foreign Service Act, AFSA Labor Management represents all bargaining unit members1, regardless of AFSA membership, in those matters where AFSA has a duty of fair representation (e.g., collective bargaining).
  2. Pursuant to the October 8, 1997 Governing Board resolution, AFSA restricts the provision of grievance and legal counseling to AFSA members.
  3. Because active duty elected officials will return to the Foreign Service following their service at AFSA and may serve as the supervisor or subordinate, or serve on the promotion or tenure board, of a member who has sought assistance from AFSA, it is AFSA’s policy to protect its members’ privacy and confidentiality to the greatest degree possible while ensuring the Executive Director, Vice President, and Elected Officials have effective oversight of the Labor Management staff’s activities.
  4. Where there is a conflict between the Union’s interests and the individual member’s interest or the interests of two or more members, attorneys have an ethical obligation to inform both/all parties of the conflict and to take appropriate action, which may include ceasing to represent one, both, or all parties.

II. Initial Contact: Intake, Membership Status, Case Assignment

A. Intake: There are several ways to request assistance from the Labor Management Office (LM):
  1. E-mails to afsa@state.gov. – Executive Assistant (EA) checks whether the person is a member and then forwards to Vice President (VP), Senior Labor Management Advisor (SLMA), or General Counsel (GC) depending on the issue(s) raised in inquiry.
  2. E-mails to member@afsa.org. - Member Services Director or Representative (Membership) checks the person’s member status, and then forwards the email to the EA or the appropriate AFSA staff member or Elected Official (EO) depending on the issue(s) raised in the inquiry.
  3. E-mails directly to LM staff member - LM staff member will check membership status. LM staff member will then provide assistance or may forward the inquiry to another staff member as appropriate.
  4. Telephone call to LM main number (647-8160) - EA will ask if the person is a member. If so, EA will forward the inquiry to the VP or appropriate staff person or transfer to the GC for staffing depending on the issue(s). If the person is not a member, EA should follow policy set forth in B(1) and (2).
  5. Telephone call to HQ – phone inquiries to AFSA HQ should be forwarded to the LM main number (647-8160). The EA will confirm member status. If the person is not a member see policy set forth in B(1) and (2). The EA will then forward the inquiry to the VP, appropriate staff person or send to GC for staffing depending on the issue(s).
  6. Walk-ins – EA will confirm member status. If the person is a member, the EA will refer inquiry to the VP or appropriate staff person or send to the GC for staffing depending on the issue(s).
  7. Regardless of the manner in which an inquiry comes in, it is AFSA’s policy to protect its members’ privacy and confidentiality to the greatest degree possible. Only AFSA staff whose official duties require them to review requests for assistance shall have access to emails sent to member@afsa.org and afsa@state.gov. VPs and Board members shall not have access to these emails unless they have been forwarded to them for action.
B. Membership Status
  1. Non-Members - If the individual requesting assistance is not a member, the AFSA staff member should assess the nature of the inquiry. If the individual is a bargaining unit member and the issue is one in which AFSA has a duty of fair representation, the staff member will forward the inquiry to the VP or appropriate staff member, depending upon the issue.
  2. If the issue relates to a matter where AFSA does not have a duty of fair representation (such as grievance or legal counseling), the EA will explain AFSA’s policy regarding legal services to members. The individual has the option to sign up and receive immediate assistance.
  3. Tandem Couples - In order to receive assistance in those areas where AFSA does not have a duty of fair representation, the employee requesting assistance must be a member of AFSA. Membership does not transfer to the non-member spouse of a tandem couple.
  4. Spouses of Members – Because AFSA’s services to spouses of members are limited, spouses of AFSA members do not need to be members of the organization. Assistance is generally limited to security clearance and suitability appeals, issues relating to their Foreign Service employment, and matters of broad interest to Foreign Service families.
  5. Applicants for the Foreign Service - In order to receive assistance from LM staff, applicants must be associate members of AFSA. Assistance is limited to issues pertaining to security clearance and suitability appeals.
C. Case Assignment
  1. Membership or the EA will direct all email, online and phone inquiries to the appropriate person in the LM Office (VP, SMLA, or GC) depending on the issue.
  2. All inquiries that are of institutional significance will be forwarded directly to the GC after vetting for membership status by the EA. The GC will determine whether the inquiry can and/or should be shared or discussed with the VP and EOs, Governing Board, or other AFSA staff members, as needed. The GC will not discuss confidential issues without the express permission of the member.
  3. If the inquiry is submitted to the SMLA or GC, they will respond to the inquiry themselves, assign the inquiry to the appropriate LM staff member, or refer the matter to the VP depending upon the issue.
  4. Once a case is assigned to an LM staff member, that person will be responsible for the case moving forward. The LM staff member will enter requisite information into the working database.
  5. The LM staff member is responsible for entering information in a timely manner and keeping cases up-to-date in the working database.

III. Criteria for Assistance

  1. Regardless of membership, in any issue where AFSA has a duty of fair representation, AFSA LM will provide assistance.
  2. AFSA LM staff will assist all members (regular and associate members) regardless of bargaining unit status. Assistance to regular members will take precedence over assistance to associate members.
  3. AFSA LM staff will assist associate members with security clearance issues, suitability appeals, other issues relating to their Foreign Service employment, and issues that have broad applicability for Foreign Service family members.
  4. Per the 1997 Governing Board resolution, grievance and legal counseling are restricted to members.
  5. LM staff will not provide assistance to members if the issues presented conflict with the interests of the Union. See Section V(2), Conflicts of Interest.

IV. Scope of Assistance

  1. The LM staff seeks to ensure that members of the Foreign Service are afforded a fair and effective system for the resolution of individual grievances that ensures the fullest measure of due process, as stated in the Foreign Service Act of 1980. AFSA assists members with a wide variety of issues relating to their Foreign Service employment, including assignment issues, allowances, overtime, retirement issues, grievances, discipline issues, security clearances, and investigations.
  2. While AFSA strives to provide members with high quality assistance/representation, AFSA reserves the right to limit or discontinue assistance in appropriate cases. If an issue is not related to a member’s Foreign Service employment, is not within the LM attorneys’ area of expertise (such as a potentially criminal matter), or will require significant time and/or resources that are beyond AFSA’s resources (such as EEO or FSGB hearing or appeal to court), the LM staff will provide the member with AFSA’s attorney referral list and may, at its discretion, provide limited assistance moving forward.
  3. In addition, assistance to members may be limited or discontinued based on the level of participation and/or responsiveness of the member, the member’s willingness to take LM staff advice, the reasonableness of member’s request for assistance, the unavailability of evidence in support of the case, and whether the case involves issues of due process, a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, and/or has broad applicability to the Foreign Service.
  4. If an LM staff member believes that assistance to a member should be limited or discontinued, the staff member shall discuss the issue with the GC, who in turn will discuss the issue with the constituency VP and/or EO.

V. Conflicts of Interest

  1. Conflicts among Members. Where there is a conflict or potential conflict between the interests of two or more members seeking AFSA’s assistance, the LM staff will take appropriate action.2 Action may include seeking informed consent from the members to waive the conflict or ceasing to represent one or all parties. Conflicts which may require one of these actions include, but are not limited to: one member is a witness in an investigation against another member, one member accuses another member of sexual or racial harassment or misconduct, or one member seeks to excuse or mitigate his/her own misconduct by blaming another member.
  2. Conflicts with Union Interests. LM staff will not provide assistance to members if the issues presented conflict with the interests of the Union. Should the LM staff feel there is a conflict or potential conflict between the member’s interest and the Union’s interest, the LM staff will consult with the GC. If the GC believes there is an actual or potential conflict of interest, the GC will obtain permission from the member to discuss the issue with the VP and/or EO. If the VP and/or EO believe there is a conflict or a potential conflict that cannot be overcome, AFSA will discontinue assisting the member. If the member will not give permission for the GC to discuss the case with the VP and/or EO, AFSA will discontinue assisting the member. Conflicts may include a matter in which the member’s position contradicts the Union’s positions in bargaining or violates a collective bargaining agreement.

VI. Member Confidentiality and Attorney-Client Privilege

  1. LM staff seeks to protect the privacy and confidentiality of our members to the greatest degree possible.
  2. The LM attorneys must adhere to the ethical rules, including those pertaining to confidentiality, attorney-client privilege, and conflicts of interest for the jurisdiction in which they practice.
  3. LM attorneys will not disclose the names of members or details of their case to the VP, EO, or other AFSA staff without the member’s permission.
  4. The SMLA and LM attorneys will not disclose the names of members seeking assistance on sensitive matters (such as medical issues, family issues, etc.) with the VP, EOs, and/or AFSA staff and/or EOs without the member’s permission.

VII. Safeguarding of Case Material

  1. The LM staff shall maintain members’ case files under appropriate safeguards to protect member confidentiality. AFSA VPs, AFSA Board members, and others shall not be given access to these documents without the written permission of the member.
  2. The Union generally has the right to Agency-level and Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) final decisions. Only the GC and the individual AFSA LM staff member who is assisting the grievant shall receive a copy of these documents. AFSA VPs, EOs, and others shall not be given access to un-redacted decisions without the written permission of the member.
  3. Agency-level decisions and FSGB orders and decisions containing the names of the grievants shall be maintained in locked cabinets which only the GC and Deputy GC may access. Redacted FSGB Board decisions and orders shall be maintained in separate binders and are available for review by the VPs, EO, other AFSA staff members, and members of AFSA.

VIII. Oversight and Review

  1. As the director of the Labor-Management unit, the GC or her designee will review on a monthly basis the cases in the database to ascertain the status and number of open cases, the subject matter of each case and the resources spent or anticipated to be spent on the case.
  2. The GC will prepare a report of the open and closed cases and meet with the ED, the State VP, and the AFSA Treasurer on a quarterly basis to review the number of active cases, focusing on those cases that have special issues and appear to require an extraordinary commitment of LM staff resources. 
  3. The GC will meet with the FAM twice a year to inform its work on budget issues. The FAM will consider issues that relate to efficient and effective case management as well as the allocation of resources to ensure that the LM unit is able to accomplish its mission and achieve its priority goals. The purpose of this multi-level review process is to ensure proper management and Board oversight so that the LM unit is able to provide members with high quality assistance/representation, while also providing leadership and support to the agency VPs, Representatives, and Board on overall labor-management issues.
  4. The GC will notify the VP, ED, EO, and/or Director of Communications of any member assistance request in the public domain or those involving the legislative branch.

1 AFSA represents a single, worldwide bargaining unit which (by statute) excludes Foreign Service employees occupying positions as management officials, confidential employees, employees engaged in personnel work in other than a purely clerical capacity, employees engaged in criminal or national security investigations, and employees who audit the work of individuals to insure their functions are discharged honestly and with integrity. Bargaining unit status is determined by the actual duties an employee performs and not necessarily his or her title.

2 The attorneys within LM have an ethical obligation to avoid conflicts and potential conflicts of interest amongst clients, to include AFSA. The LM attorneys must also adhere to ethical rules pertaining to confidentiality and attorney-client privilege for the jurisdiction in which they practice, i.e. Washington, D.C.