BY KENNETH KERO-MENTZ
The Foreign Service is under extreme pressure, in an almost unprecedented way. Even during the mid-to-late 1990s when the State Department hired very few officers and specialists, the impetus was budgetary, rather than disdain for who we are and the work we do. Morale today is low, people are on edge, and the future seems uncertain. We’ve watched over the past year as many of the department’s leaders have departed in frustration.
AFSA is busier than ever defending the Foreign Service and our members. AFSA President Barbara Stephenson’s columns have laid out the work we are doing to ensure that members of Congress, the media and the American people understand the value of what we do.
Here in our Labor Management (LM) office, our caseload has more than doubled as the number of AFSA members grew over the past decade. And just as members of the Foreign Service continue to do their best work during a difficult time, we here at AFSA strive to provide our members with the best service possible, even as our caseload grows.
In order to address current realities, we are updating our procedures. Presently, if a non-member needs AFSA’s help, they are allowed to join and immediately receive free technical and legal assistance from our small team of labor attorneys and grievance counselors. Effective July 1, 2018, however, only members who have been in good standing for at least six months will be able to receive grievance counseling from LM. This will ensure that AFSA’s limited resources are dedicated to supporting our members in good standing. Of course, AFSA continues to represent and advocate for the entire bargaining unit, members and non-members alike.
As you can imagine, we are currently working on a host of different issues. At the institutional level, as we’ve discussed in a recent AFSANet, we are working to ensure that those who take advantage of the buyouts are able to participate in the Career Transition (Job Search) Program at FSI.
When we learned that the department had neglected over several years to nominate some of our best and brightest for presidential awards, we took action and are working on ways to redress this issue.
At the same time, we’re working closely with Foreign Service families who have children with special needs to push MED to support our members and help them continue to serve where they are most needed, in support of the national interest. We’re pressuring the department to support those affected by the sonic attacks in Cuba. And we’re continuing to push for more EFM hiring.
AFSA is busier than ever defending the Foreign Service and our members.
Of course, this work benefits all members of the Foreign Service and, in many ways, all employees of the State Department. I’ve always said my hope is to make State a little more user-friendly and make it a little bit better place to work, for all of us. And our work on these issues is part of that effort.
On the individual level, LM is the place that all our members can turn when they need help. Many may never need it, but if a problem develops at your workplace, we’re here to provide support. These are matters that affect our careers, our lives and our families. We know how important our help can be, and we always do our best; indeed, we try to give our members superlative assistance.
All this takes time—in some cases, years. When the agency oversteps, it can drag its feet in admitting wrong-doing.
For instance, when the department paid Meritorious Step Increases (MSI) in 2013-2016 to fewer Foreign Service employees than our collective bargaining agreement called for, we filed implementation disputes, the first two of which were decided in favor of all members of the Foreign Service harmed by the department’s actions.
When a group of Diplomatic Security agents was denied reimbursement for costs during an authorized house-hunting trip, we filed a cohort grievance on their behalf and successfully obtained compensation for them.
When locally hired entry-level officers were placed in long-term training and their assignments were delayed due to visa issues, we filed a cohort grievance and obtained locality pay for them. In short, AFSA is here to help, and we do.
Times are tough, and our members deserve the best assistance we can provide. As we work to protect, defend and strengthen the Foreign Service, know that we’re here for you, working harder than ever.
As an AFSA member, if there’s anything we can do for you, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, because membership really does have its privileges.