The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

This is my penul- timate column after four years on the AFSA Governing Board. While many of my columns have focused on AFSA’s role (dating from 1924) as a professional association, I am honored to use this month’s page to commemorate the 30th anniversary of AFSA’s certification as the exclusive rep- resentative — i.e., union — of the U.S. Foreign Service. If you are among the 30 percent of the active-duty Foreign Service who have entered on duty within the past four years, you will have heard me per- sonally explain the significance of AFSA’s union role when you attended our welcoming luncheon at AFSA headquarters. For everyone else, I will start by quoting from the Foreign Service Act of 1980: “The unique conditions of Foreign Service employment require a distinct framework for the development and implementation of modern, construc- tive, and cooperative relationships between management officials and organizations representing members of the Service. Therefore, labor organiza- tions and collective bargaining in the Service are in the public interest and are consistent with the requirement of an effective and efficient Government.” Collective bargaining means that management officials at the foreign affairs agencies must obtain AFSA’s concurrence before they may alter any of the conditions of employment that affect Foreign Service members. Examples of negotiable issues include promotion precepts, assignment rules, commissioning and tenure rules, and time-in-class and time-in-service rules. AFSA uses its negotiating power constructively. For example, it has been over a decade since AFSA and State Department management reached a negotiating impasse that required out- side mediation. But that is not to say that we rubber-stamp management’s proposals, either. Accounts of our tough negotiations can be found from time to time in the AFSA News section of this Journal or in our update telegrams and AFSANet e-mails. In addition to reacting to propos- als made by agency managers, AFSA is often the initiator of employee- friendly changes in the rules. Many of our best proposals come from our members in the field. We work hard to listen to our members and active- ly promote their interests. Elsewhere in this month’s Journal , you will find some fascinating articles describing how AFSA became a union three decades ago. Sitting here today, it is hard to imagine what the Foreign Service would be like had AFSA not become a union. Much of what AFSA has accom- plished for the Foreign Service was achieved either directly or indirectly because of our union status. For exam- ple, employees would likely get less bang for the buck from a non-union AFSA that could not negotiate with management on members’ behalf. Fewer tangible accomplishments would probably result in a smaller member- ship than we currently enjoy. Fewer dues-paying members, in turn, would translate to less money available to fund key activities such as our legislative action and public outreach efforts — efforts that have accomplished much over the years. Thankfully, AFSA did become a union 30 years ago. For that, we owe deep gratitude to the AFSA leaders and members of that era who made it hap- pen. Some of them are named in the retrospective articles in this month’s Journal . What I find remarkable is that many of the key players of that period — including Ambassador William Harrop, Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, F.A. “Tex” Harris, and Ambassador Herman Cohen — are still very active in AFSA right now. We owe a special debt to them for both creating and nur- turing the AFSA that we know today. ■ P RESIDENT ’ S V IEWS Exclusive Representative B Y J OHN K. N ALAND 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 5 John K. Naland is the president of the American Foreign Service Association. AFSA is often the initiator of employee-friendly changes in the rules.