The Foreign Service Journal, November 2013

50 NOVEMBER 2013 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA NEWS STATE VP VOICE | BY MATTHEW ASADA AFSA NEWS Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP. Contact: or (202) 647-8160 Earlier this year, AFSA celebrated its 40th anni- versary as a public-sector union and as the exclusive representative of the Foreign Service at the Department of State, USAID and other foreign affairs agencies. (Please see the April 2013 FSJ for a complete history at ). In this month’s column I explore the democratic underpinnings of our union, its officers and the collective bargaining agree- ment, the provisions of which we are bound to abide by and uphold. H I STORY Prior to the late 1960s AFSA was exclusively a professional association dominated by Senior Foreign Service officers, who tended to be leaders in the depart- ment. However, at the end of the decade a group of younger Foreign Service offi- cers won all of AFSA’s leader- ship positions through an election. Following President Richard Nixon’s executive order calling for unions in the public sector, these same officers decided that adding the union role would magnify AFSA’s impact. A 1970 referendum affirmed that FS employees wanted union representa- tion. In 1972 AFSA competed against the American Federa- tion of Government Employ- ees for exclusive representa- tive status at State, Union Democratic Governance: A Legacy Worth Preserving USAID and USIA, and won by significant majorities. AFSA NEGOT I ATES Pursuant to the Foreign Service Act of 1980, AFSA negotiates on behalf of all bargaining unit members of the Foreign Service, regardless of whether or not they are AFSA dues-paying members. Even though we do not have the authority to negotiate on behalf of For- eign Service employees who are not in the bargaining unit, the vast majority of issues we handle apply to bargain- ing and non-bargaining unit members alike. AFSA UPHOLDS THE CONTRACT In addition to negotiating the “contract,” the exclusive representative also upholds the “contract.” At State and USAID negotiations are continuous, and either party may table a suggestion for changing personnel policies and procedures at any time. Given these “rolling nego- tiations,” there is no single comprehensive document, but rather a series of memo- randa of understanding representing the agreements we have reached relating to conditions of employment. AFSA has a number of ways to enforce this agree- ment. We can file an unfair labor practice with the For- eign Service Labor Relations Board or an Implementation Dispute with the Foreign Service Grievance Board. Congress also empowered the exclusive representative to ensure that all personnel policies and practices, includ- ing treatment of individuals, are in accordance with the “contract.” To ensure that any decision reached will not violate this framework, AFSA has the right to participate in any formal discussion regarding a grievance at the department, or intervene as a party to the Foreign Service Grievance Board. ELECT I ON OF UN I ON OF F I C I ALS Every two years the Foreign Service bargaining unit democratically elects AFSA’s new union officials. As the AFSA vice president, I serve as a full-time union official and negotiate with the department on behalf of all State Department Foreign Service employees. I am joined on the AFSA Governing Board by 11 State representatives, who serve in a voluntary capacity along- side their full-time jobs at the department. Your 2013-2015 AFSA Governing Board is led by our fulltime president and comprised of officers and representatives from the other foreign affairs agencies. ACCOUNTABLE TO YOU While union governance may not be the first thing on your mind, it is important to understand its democratic underpinnings. This is your union and we, as elected union officials, are account- able to you. Over the next year we look forward to working with the department to better edu- cate the Foreign Service on the rights and responsibilities of the union as we seek to make State a better place to work and serve. I also encourage all of you to learn more about AFSA, get involved and consider running for union office. Next month, I look forward to dis- cussing “Security at State” with you. n The Foreign Service Act of 1980 enshrined the right of the exclu- sive representative, in this case AFSA, to be present at “(A) any formal discussion between one or more representatives of the Department and one or more employees in the unit […] concern- ing any grievance […] or any personnel policy or practice or other general condition of employment; and (B) any examination of an employee by a Department representative in connection with an investigation if - (i) the employee reasonably believes that the examination may result in disciplinary action against the employee, and (ii) the employee requests such representation.”