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GAO Goes Online in Unionization Effort

Government Accountability Office analysts took to the Internet on Friday to convince fellow employees to vote in favor of forming a union at the agency.

Titled “The Union: All of Us Together,” the eight-minute video features several analysts discussing how joining the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers would create a more equitable relationship between workers and management.

“When you devote 30 years of your life to an organization, you certainly care about the organization,” analyst Jacqueline Harpp said. “And you care that people are treated fairly.”

Analysts moved in May to hold the election that will determine whether to form an IFPTE group at the GAO. Ballots already have been delivered to analysts at the agency’s field offices; those in Washington, D.C., will vote on Sept. 19.

The analysts’ clip, posted on Google’s video Web site and YouTube, serves as a response to an internal video message shown to GAO workers on Thursday. In that video, Comptroller General David Walker promised to remain neutral in the union effort and urged all eligible employees to vote on unionization.

A GAO spokeswoman declined to comment on the analysts’ video Friday, saying the agency would not publicly discuss union matters until after the vote.

The tone of the analysts’ video was a bit of a departure from previous union campaign efforts. Earlier on, some analysts accused Walker of trying to block a union vote, and at one point IFPTE officials filed an unfair labor practice charge against him.

That charge eventually was dropped, and several analysts on the video said their goal in forming a union is not to bring down Walker, but rather to increase equality between workers and management on important administrative issues.

“There are people who don’t like David Walker, and they don’t like some of the things he did, but there are fewer and fewer of them I think,” analyst Charlie Egan said. “People who are supporting the union now are supporting it for the right reasons, which is to make GAO better.”

Added analyst Karen Febey: “We do have it really good at GAO. A lot of people do find this to be a satisfying career. A lot of people are proud of their professional accomplishments. We want to make this the best place possible.”

Analysts also dismissed worries that forming a union would create unnecessary bureaucracy at the agency.

“The union is us, and we have a lot of talented people at GAO, and we’re all analysts and we think through these problems,” Kim Siegal said.

The agency’s current method of communicating with employees is through its Employee Advisory Council. Analyst Mary Crenshaw argued that the council’s influence on GAO management is small.

“GAO management can basically take the advice of the EAC, or not,” said Crenshaw, who has sat on the council.

A union would have weight because unions can lobby Congress and demand certain information from management that the EAC cannot, Crenshaw added.

Many analysts have cited a recent pay restructuring as the main reason for the union effort.

That restructuring divided analysts into new pay levels called “bands,” with pay and salary increases measured in part by what band the employees were placed in. Following that restructuring, more than 300 analysts did not receive a pay raise, despite the fact they earned a “meets expectations” performance rating.

Walker repeatedly has defended the system, arguing it is fair and is a good way to measure how much employees should earn based on performance.

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