Broadcasting Board of Governors employee union accuses management of bad faith; BBG Governor Ashe voices concerns about poor employee morale

AFGE Local 1812In a letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton, Tim Shamble, president of AFGE Local 1812, the union representing BBG employees, has accused the agency’s managers of delaying the conclusion of labor-management contract negotiations.

Shamble charged that by constantly opening various parts of the contract for renegotiation, the agency’s managers apparently want these talks to drag on for years.

The union would prefer finalizing the talks begun in September 2006 and incorporating them in a new contract, Shamble wrote. The letter pointed out that the union did not open for renegotiations any part of the contract beyond those which were close to being finished in the Spring of 2009.

Shamble was responding to an email written by BBG Governor Victor Ashe who became concerned earlier about poor employee morale and the lack of a new labor-management contract. Ashe found it stunning that BBG/IBB management would allow these talks to go on for two years without bringing them to a satisfactory conclusion.

In May 2012, Ashe sent an email to other BBG members, in which he described his meeting with the BBG management team handling the labor negotiations with the AFGE 1812 employee union. Ashe’s email was widely circulated among top BBG and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) managers.

Ashe wrote: “For the Obama Administration which has stressed better relations with organized labor, this presents a most unusual situation. For the BBG Board which says it wishes to improve morale, this is a morale stopper.” Ashe urged other Board members to discuss this issue at their Prague Board meeting in early June. “We should jump start this to an ending,” Ashe wrote.

Sent: 5/29/2012 7:38:37 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time
Subj: Labor talks

On May 14 I met with the BBG management team which handles the current labor negotiations with AFGE 1812. At the meeting were six BBG employees plus myself. They were Marie Lennon (whose husband John also works at BBG), Paul Vali, April Cabral, Sheryl Williams, Donna Grace and Ain Munn. This seemed more persons than necessary but not unusual when a Governor of the BBG seeks information. I did not ask for so many to attend. All were polite and professional in their remarks.

This e mail is a report on the meeting and my thoughts at its conclusion. The meeting lasted about one hour.

I had requested a meeting on the talks without naming persons who needed to be in attendance. I had previously heard from the union about the status of talks which seem eternal. We all know morale at VOA/OCB and IBB is poor based on the OPM surveys of federal employees. Contract employees are not surveyed by OPM but one can reasonably conclude their views would be equally dismal towards the employee-employer situation as they receive no benefits and seldom see their contract pay increased while experiencing late payments occasionally.

I learned the current contract between BBG/IBB and AFGE is the one from 2005 which expired some years ago but continues in place because a new contract has not been negotiated. I also learned that one entire week a month, there are negotiations and have been going on since March, 2011. We are now in the 14th month of talks. When I asked when this seemingly career set of talks might end, April Cabral cited December, 2012 as a possible date for conclusion but it seems likely to go then to an impasse panel with more months of consideration there. Almost two years will have been spent on these talks without conclusion.

Management, which is primarily Mr Vali and Ms Cabral who lead the labor talks, seem to want to revise the total contract on many different points. I really never got a firm fix on the exact issues separating the two sides other than some discussion on a FLRA opinion overturning the views of BBG/IBB on non citizen employment, the question of discipline articles, the question of merit promotions and staffing and arbitration on leave. The FLRA matter seems to be over whether the legal office wants to acknowledge it or not. Only congressional rewrite of current laws would change it. However, Ms. Cabral did not seem willing to throw in the towel on this without direction from those above her.

My concern is the Board is being represented on these talks by these individuals without being briefed on what the issues are and whether we would agree with them. While the Board would not want to actually negotiate, we should be informed periodically what is happening in our name especially as it impacts employee morale which is in the cellar.

I found it stunning that BBG/IBB management would allow these talks to go on for two years. My suggestion would be to pick out the 3 or 4 major issues of difference and try to resolve them. Forget the rest and save them for a later day. It is fantasy to think you can change 25 to 28 issues in one series of talks even ones which go on for two years. It is also wrong to allow these to drag on a week a month. If these had been done one week after the next, it would have been concluded one way or the other by now. Instead, by stretching them out for 2 years, they are part of the career of several person.

My own feeling is that Dick Lobo as IBB director and David Ensor as VOA head need to fast track these talks to an earlier conclusion than Christmas especially since most AFGE members will not regard the current talks ending at Christmas as much of a Christmas gift since they are headed to an impasse panel as surely as Tuesday follows Monday. For the Obama Administration which has stressed better relations with organized labor, this presents a most unusual situation. For the BBG Board which says it wishes to improve morale, this is a morale stopper. I urge that this be discussed at our Prague Board meeting. We should jump start this to an ending.

These comments are not confidential. I do not ask that you to treat them as such. Feel free to share them with whoever you feel would benefit by having them. My goal is to secure progress on a situation which has lasted much too long and to the detriment of BBG.

I regret being the bearer of less than positive news but BBG needs to know about this.

Victor Ashe

Tim Shamble, president of AFGE Local 1812 responded to Ashe’s email in letter to Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton, dated June 5, 2012.

June 5, 2012

Mr. Michael Lynton, Interim Presiding Governor
Broadcasting Board of Governors
Room 3360 Cohen Building
330 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20237

Dear Mr. Lynton:

This is in response to an email that Governor Victor Ashe sent regarding the Labor-Management Contract negotiations. We have been involved in Contract negotiations since September 2006. At that time the parties were involved in negotiating Articles 3, 5, 14, 20, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30, and 32. Some of these Articles were opened by the Union and some were opened by management.. Several involved only minor changes. The parties reached agreements on several Articles and Sections of other Articles only to have the Agency get up from the table and refuse to negotiate further. None of these agreements were ever incorporated in the Contract. The Union was forced to file a grievance on this matter in March 2009. This issue has yet to be arbitrated.

On July 24, 2009, the Agency notified the Union that it was opening Articles 5, 8,18, 20, 21, 23, and 24 as if none of previous negotiations had taken place.

The Agency refused to abide by the previously agreed upon ground rules for Contract negotiations and attempted to impose its new set of ground rules on the Union. The Union was forced to invoke Impasse over ground rules on April 20, 2010. Ground rules were imposed on both parties by a Federal Services Impasses Panel member on October 28, 2010.

While the ground rules dispute was going on the Agency opened additional Articles: 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17, 22, 26, 27, and 33. The Union abided by the Impasses Panel decision and met in good faith despite the previous negotiations and agreements. We have been in negotiations now, in this additional round, for more than a year without a single item being initialed or signed.

I have suggested that these negotiations be reduced to a few major issues with the Agency honoring its previous agreements. That suggestion has fallen on deaf ears.

By opening so many Articles, it seems apparent that these negotiations are meant to drag on for years.

The Union would prefer finalizing the Articles begun in September 2006 and incorporating them in a new Contract. We did not open a single Article beyond those and they were close to being finished in the Spring of 2009.

Sincerely,

Tim Shamble / President
AFGE Local 1812

c: The Broadcasting Board of Governors

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