The Foreign Service Journal, October 2023

58 OCTOBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL USAID VP VOICE | BY RANDY CHESTER Contact: | (202) 712-5267 A Case for Unions I am a union guy, and I come from a union family. My grandfather was a United Auto Workers member; my grandmother was in the Communication Workers of America; my brother and motherin-law were members of the California Teachers Association (CTA); and my spouse, a former member of the CTA and the Service Employees International Union, is now an AFSA member. Unions are important to me. Unions and employee associations have changed the American workforce. Through the power of advocacy and collective bargaining, they are responsible for many of our labor protections and regulations, safety standards, pensions systems, rights, and a factor in mitigating income inequality. Union membership peaked in the U.S. in the 1960s with 35 percent of the total workforce, more than 21 million people. Since then, with increases in globalization, anti-union federal legislation/ regulation, and the increase in right-to-work states, private sector membership declined, but public sector membership has soared to 33 percent of public sector workers in 2022. Today, sadly, only about 10 percent of the total (private and public) workforce, or 14.3 million people, belong to a union. Since 1924, AFSA has been the advocate and partner for members of the U.S. Foreign Service. As a public sector union, there are limits to what AFSA can do, outlined in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (chapters 10 and 11). But make no mistake: AFSA is a powerful advocate. This year, AFSA successfully lobbied to update the pet travel policy, helping obtain an increase in types of and reimbursement amounts for transfer allowances for FS employees returning from overseas for domestic tours. AFSA’s ongoing efforts include advocacy for: • Pay parity for new Foreign Service hires, no matter where they are hired, during the orientation period prior to leaving for a first post. • Internet to be treated as a utility, just like electricity, at government-owned and -leased buildings. • Anti-nepotism review parity for tandems and eligible family members (EFMs) in Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) language. Here at USAID, more than 80 percent of USAID FSOs are AFSA members—that’s more than 1,500 FSOs. In addition to the Foreign Service Act, the AFSA-USAID 2022 Framework Agreement guides our interactions, negotiations, advocacy, and grievance support with the agency. At USAID, AFSA is actively engaged in lobbying for additional resources to fund overseas and domestic FSO positions; participating as a key member of the Foreign Service Strengthening Initiative; working closely with the Employee Labor Relations team on chapter rewrites in the Automated Directives System (ADS); engaging with the Human Capital and Talent Management office on promotion/assignment reform and workforce planning; and advising and representing FSOs to the grievance board. For me, joining AFSA was never a question. Over the years, my support for union membership has only grown. Whether I’m talking to the local barista trying to organize, the teamster driving a long-haul truck striking to improve work conditions and pay equity, or the FSO juggling work and private life priorities, I stand with you. My questions to you: How do we get USAID officers more involved? How do we go from 80 percent to 90 or 95 percent membership? Want to know more? Go to, drop me a note at chester@afsa. org, or visit me in the Ronald Reagan Building, Room 3.09-D. Not a member, or know someone who isn’t? Contact for an application. n Data based on research by E. McGaughey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Thomas Piketty. OECD DATA, TRADE UNION DATASET