The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

nlike some AFSA members in 1969, I found it quite normal that we should add employee repre- sentational responsibilities to our ongoing activities as a profession- al association. Indeed, as I explained to the Governing Board during the 1970 debate on whether AFSA should become a labor union, I learned during the labor course at FSI that employers are gener- ally much more comfortable with labor unions than with- out them. Implementing collective bargaining agree- ments is a much more productive and efficient method of handling labor-management relations than dealing with employees on an individual basis day to day. The key is that the labor union shares responsibility for implementa- tion of the agreement with management. In fact, my pro-union sym- pathies actually go back to my childhood in New York City, where I grew up immersed in a labor union family. Because of this ambiance, I was very much the “anti-communist,” “anti- Soviet” intellectual during my student days at the City College of New York, where I encountered a substantial left-wing presence during the 1949 to 1953 period. When I entered the Foreign Service in August 1955, I was struck by conversations I had with more senior officers who talked frequently about their “out-of-pocket” expens- es. I found it strange that they apparently regarded those expenses as a normal part of Foreign Service life instead of seeking reimbursement or at least complaining about them. From January 1962 to July 1969, I carried out labor reporting responsibilities at four African posts. At Consulate General Salisbury (nowHarare), I had the full- time position of “regional labor attaché,” with reporting responsibilities covering Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Malawi and Zambia. Prior to these four postings in Africa, I completed the nine-month labor- training course at FSI. The training included internships at the Labor Department and the Steelworkers Union local in Providence, R.I. The Members’ Interests Committee I returned to Washington in July 1969 for an assign- ment as deputy director of the Central African Affairs office. Soon thereafter, Bill Harrop approached me to see if I would be willing to take over AFSA’s Members’ Inter- ests Committee. (Bill and I had served together in Zaire from 1966 to 1969.) He explained that AFSA was receiving a growing number of letters from members request- ing assistance on bread-and- butter issues, and the commit- tee’s role was to respond and help find solutions if at all pos- sible. I agreed to take over the committee, and the AFSA executive office started for- warding members’ letters to me. Most of the requests for assistance involved overseas allowances, especially shipment of effects, housing, R&R, health benefits and education. As a result of my adminis- trative officer responsibilities in Kampala (1961-63), I knew how to navigate through the regulations. I there- fore looked through the manuals in the Africa Bureau’s Executive Office in order to understand the background F O C U S O N A F S A’ S 3 0 Y E A R S A S A U N I O N 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 35 AFSA HAS ALWAYS TRIED TO HELP INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS WITH THEIR PROBLEMS . A FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE M EMBERS ’ I NTERESTS C OMMITTEE DESCRIBES HOW THAT ROLE HAS EVOLVED . B Y H ERMAN J. C OHEN U AFSA B ECOMES A U NION : B READ - AND -B UTTER I SSUES