The Foreign Service Journal, March 2021

70 MARCH 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 AFSA Needs a Second Full-Time Labor Management Position at State The size of the Foreign Ser- vice has increased by more than 30 percent in the past 15 years—and has been growing since AFSA last negotiated its collective bargaining agree- ment in 1987. Despite this increase, there is still only one full-time State Department Foreign Service employee in AFSA’s Labor Management unit—the AFSA State vice president—to deal with the myriad issues confronting today’s Foreign Service. In 2019 AFSA obtained the State Department’s agree- ment during periodic negotia- tions of its framework agree- ment to include a provision “allowing the right for AFSA to submit a proposal for negotia- tion to the Department’s Chief Labor Management Negotia- tor requesting up to 100% official time for an additional representative for a definitive period of time.” The provision allows AFSA to engage in negotiations on this subject while the agree- ment is still in force, rather than having to wait until it is up for renewal on Aug. 31, 2022. As of this writing, after receiving unanimous approval at the November 2020 AFSA Governing Board meeting, we have made a formal proposal to the department to estab- lish this position. Focusing on Specialists. With an additional full-time position, AFSA would be able to represent more effectively the more than 5,000 special- ists at State, including 2,000 Diplomatic Security special agents and another 3,000 specialists spread across 19 other skill codes, including information management specialists, office manage- ment specialists, general services officers, medical providers and diplomatic couriers, to name a few. These employees have unique skill sets and are subject to unique hiring and promotion rules. While we currently have two specialists serving as State representa- tives on the AFSA Governing Board, these individuals have full-time jobs in the depart- ment and, thus, do not have the time needed to work on these issues. As the exclusive represen- tative of FS specialists, AFSA needs to increase our elected bandwidth to more effectively assist our specialist members and represent their issues to department management. AFSA needs to take a careful look—and engage extensively with members of each skill code—to ensure the present structure pro- vides realistic advancement prospects and a meaningful career path. The one-size-fits- all approach may no longer be appropriate for a wide variety of skills, job descriptions and career paths. As professional develop- ment plans are produced for successive skill codes, a full-time State representative will have the opportunity to engage with members of that skill code and make certain PDPs make sense. These are just a few of the many special- ist issues that arise. AFSA would also be able to delve more deeply into the questions we consistently hear from our specialist mem- bers, such as why human resources officers apparently advance more quickly than general services officers, or why it is so hard to get promoted from FS-4 to FS-3 as an information manage- ment specialist, or why DS agents seem to get stuck at FS-3 or FS-2, or whether FS-4 is an appropriate level for the traveling diplomatic courier. Surge Capacity. We are proud of the way AFSA has responded to the many issues affecting our members because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But another full- time position would likely have given us the wherewithal to master pandemic-related issues more quickly and com- prehensively. In the future we can expect other major threats to the well-being of our members, whether caused by a new pandemic or another global scourge. So, having this surge capacity would be a welcome addition to Labor Manage- ment’s capabilities. Next Steps. Unfortunately, it is too late to include this position in the call for nomi- nations for the 2021-2023 AFSA electoral period. We will nonetheless press forward with negotiations with the department on establishment of this full-time position. Should the department agree to our proposal, AFSA would wait until one of the six State representative posi- tions on the Governing Board became vacant and, as per- mitted by the bylaws, appoint someone to fill the vacancy. Prior to doing so, AFSA would send out a message describing the position and inviting anyone interested to apply. We would establish in advance a group of individu- als who will interview and vet candidates against transpar- ent standards and then make a recommendation to the AFSA Governing Board for approval. AFSA would then include this position in the regular 2023-2025 electoral season. Again, nothing is guaran- teed. We must convince the department that this position is needed, if even for a trial period. In the meantime, we will keep you informed of our negotiations. The bottom line is that we want to be as transparent and open about this initiative as possible. We welcome your thoughts and comments at n