The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

Thomas’ death became the focal point for congressional action, led by his home-state senator, Birch Bayh Jr., D-Ind., who introduced sweeping grievance legislation based on work done by AFSA’s legal committee, led by Marion Nash. (Other committee members were Tex Harris, Bill Salisbury, Terry Leitzell, Erland Heginbotham, Sam Parleman, Dick Higgins, Rick Melton and Dick Williams.) State’s managers were out- raged by the Bayh Bill, which they saw as gutting their ability to run the Foreign Service, and moved quickly to block it by contending that the new grievance system should be negotiated between the foreign affairs agencies and the (as yet undesignated) labor union, rather than leg- islated. Another factor driving support for AFSA’s unionization was frustration with the inequities that characterized the treatment of Foreign Service personnel in the field. For example, in 12,000-foot-high La Paz, Bolivia, senior offi- cers got oxygen bottles for their personal use, while junior officers and specialists just had to breathe hard. In addi- tion, many diplomatic privileges and immunities, such as exemption from local sales tax and duty-free entry of vehi- cles and spirits, were denied to specialists outright. Many Foreign Service employees, led by labor officer Hank Cohen and Staff Corps (specialist) representatives Barbara Good and John Ivie, saw that AFSA could work more effectively to end those dispar- ities if it were a union. Indeed, a campaign spearheaded by AFSA’s Members’ Interests Committee, led by Ted Wilkinson, would eventually lead to establishment of the Office of Foreign Missions, which gave the State Department itself the needed leverage through reciprocity to get equal treatment for all U.S. employ- ees stationed abroad. AFSA also joined forces at this time with women’s groups to pressure State to rescind its discriminatory poli- cies against female FSOs, who had to resign their com- missions if they married and routinely faced unfair treat- ment in assignments and promotions. And on an institu- tional level, AFSA was battling against the business-sup- portedMagnuson Bill, intended to strip the overseas com- mercial function from State and send it to the Department of Commerce; resisting U.S. Information Agency Director Frank Shakespeare’s insistence on per- sonally making the final selection of threshold promotions to the Senior Foreign Service from a list of qualified can- didates identified by selection boards; and working to modify the Peterson Report’s recommendations for reor- ganizing USAID. Executive Orders As if all that was not enough on AFSA’s plate, the Office of Management and Budget promulgated Executive Order 11491 in October 1969 to implement President Nixon’s decision to establish a formal labor- management system for federal workers. So after 45 years as a professional and fraternal organization, AFSA sud- denly had to decide whether to reconstitute itself as a labor union and contest elections against the American Federation of Government Employees, an AFL-CIO union, to represent Foreign Service employees in State, USAID and USIA. The Charles Bray/Bill Harrop-led AFSA Governing Board voted overwhelmingly in 1970 for AFSA to seek exclusive representation of Foreign Service employees. One board member, Bill Bradford, resigned in protest, arguing that a labor union would both divide the Service and distance it from the White House. He was far from alone in that view. But the majority “Young Turks” on the board saw that meaningful reform of the Foreign Service F O C U S J U N E 2 0 0 3 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 19 F. Allen (“Tex”) Harris is AFSA Governing Board secre- tary and has twice served as its president and twice as vice president. An FSO from 1964 until 1999, he served in Caracas, Buenos Aires, Durban, Melbourne and Washington, D.C. For his reporting (in and out of chan- nels) on the Argentine “Dirty War” he received AFSA’s Rivkin Award for constructive dissent by a mid-level offi- cer in 1984 and, some 15 years later, the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award (its highest award). The AFSA award for dissent by a Foreign Service specialist is named after him. Harris was the first person fired from the Reagan administration’s Environmental Protection Agency for zealously promot- ing the idea internationally that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy upper atmospheric ozone. Since retiring from the Service, he has lectured and consulted. The Vietnam War not only spawned widespread protests at home but fueled calls for major changes in the Foreign Service.