The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2024

STATE VP VOICE | BY HUI JUN TINA WONG AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202)-647-8160 New Year’s Resolutions in Leadership and Labor Management This year marks 100 years of both AFSA and the U.S. Foreign Service—a great opportunity for reset and reflection. I want to offer a window into our recent successes and challenges, dispel myths, and offer engagement tips. Who are we? AFSA’s labor management team at the State Department comprises our general counsel and a small, but mighty, team of attorney advisers, grievance counselors, and labor management specialists. Most have decades of experience working with AFSA members and some have served as Senior Foreign Service officers. As State vice president, I am the chief labor negotiator and policy lead. We also have our first-ever full-time State representative dedicated to specialist issues, Greg Floyd, who brings broad Foreign Service experience. We are the only two elected officers on State’s AFSA labor management team of clientfacing experts. How can you reach us? As an elected board member, I can’t represent individual clients in their cases. But hearing directly from you—whether during my monthly office hours, via a direct email, through an employee organization, or on a Teams chat where you share your ideas—is critical to my work and that of every elected board member. We recommend member@afsa. org and as entry points for all specific questions and concerns. Those inboxes are monitored only by professional AFSA staff, but staff occasionally forward me sanitized emails with the member’s consent. What do we do every day? Members across all ranks, including from within our diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) community, are under the impression that we put enormous resources into helping those facing the department’s proposed action of “separation for cause.” That is simply untrue. The overwhelming majority of our client services are one-time in nature: answering a question, clarifying a FAM citation, checking out a pay discrepancy issue, and such. More than 40 percent of grievances (hundreds filed each year) are to help members with their EERs. We handle only a handful of “separation for cause” cases each year. As a former president of the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association, I deeply appreciate our attorneys’ support on a full range of security investigations, assignment restrictions, assignment reviews, and anomalous health incident (AHI) cases. AFSA labor management’s core tenet is ensuring every member has due process— that is the case in our U.S. legal system, as it is with all the standards enshrined in U.S. labor laws. As State vice president, I am here to fill the gaps—to continue myth busting and sharing with our FS workforce. How to engage with us? Be courteous to AFSA staff. They live full lives outside of their nine-to-five jobs. They also have full workloads while on the job. Members write in from all different time zones, and our team is always responsive. Understand that you are going to hear what you need, not necessarily what you want, depending on what the rules and regulations say in your specific situation. Count on me to ask the hard questions alongside you. I practice workplace flexibility, regularly convening with employee organizations and individuals, gathering ideas, and engaging virtually. Think of engagement opportunities in a Venn diagram of two circles representing AFSA State VP and Labor Management professional staff: The overlapping part of the circles is the nexus of collective trends seen through our intake of cases and translated into some of the AFSA policy goals to push for updates to existing processes and procedures related to our conditions of employment. Recent advocacy successes include balancing the Performance Standards Board so it includes members from all senior ranks— FS-1s, OCs, and MCs—across all cones. We also added equal employee opportunity language to the future emergency backup care approvals platform and are ensuring all employees on details outside State can use this program when reinstated. On the outer circle of the Venn diagram that concerns only labor management, staff can assist individual AFSA members as they advance their grievances or other issues. On my outer circle, I can raise policy issues and push for innovative solutions, such as leadership skills, retention, morale, organizational culture and dynamics, professional development, and DEIA, to department leaders. Postscript: I recognize we can’t fix everything. My utmost priority is to build a legacy of thinkers and doers on the AFSA Governing Board who don’t just tuck themselves away in that internal overlapping circle but expand outward to positively change the culture of the State Department. I am—and our allies are—advancing institutional reforms for the long game, whether now in AFSA or in other department roles. I have your back. n 40 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL