BBG Watch Commentary
Several sources told BBG Watch that at a AFGE Local 1812 union meeting last week a small group of opponents of the bipartisan Royce – Engel H.R. 4490 reform bill was outnumbered by Voice of America (VOA) union members who support the bill, especially management reform provisions proposed in the legislation.
Opponents of the bill, who are mostly among VOA Newsroom staffers, did not offer any formal motions against the union’s leadership despite their earlier verbal attacks on AFGE Local 1812 officers for supporting the bill. Union supporters of the bill at the meeting outnumbered its opponents, sources said, and were ready to back their union leaders if necessary. Opponents of the bill apparently sensed solidarity among the majority of those present, a source said, and did not make demands that would be rejected.
According to sources, the union’s leadership and other supporters of the bill showed willingness to listen to arguments from the bill’s opponents. One source described it as an open and frank discussion of various issues. It appears that both sides have decided to de-escalate tensions, but the union’s leadership is not about to drop its support for the bill.
AFGE Local 1812 published this editorial on Friday:
AGENCY REFORM: NECESSARY AND INEVITABLE, AFGE Local 1812.
AFGE Local 1812: “Congress seems to be determined to reform what has widely been criticized as a defunct and dysfunctional Agency – the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The first attempt at addressing the problem is HR-4490, a Bill passed unanimously by the House Committee with oversight over the BBG. Although the Bill is not perfect it is likely that a Bill in some form will be passed.”
AFGE Local 1812 also published Union President Tim Shamble’s statement:
STATEMENT FROM AFGE LOCAL 1812 PRESIDENT TIM SHAMBLE, AFGE Local 1812.
AFGE Local 1812: “AFGE Local 1812 supports the passage of the BBG Reorganization bill, HR 4490, which recently passed unanimously in a bipartisan vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”
BBG Watch has learned that those who have come forward in remarks to AFGE Local 1812 Executive Board members and at the union’s June General Membership meeting as well as those who have visited the union office, except for a few Newsroom employees, have been supportive of the union’s stand in favor of H.R. 4490 with limited reservations about the VOA mission language. There may also have been also Newsroom employees who expressed support verbally to the union.
AFGE Local 1812 said from the beginning that while the union supports the bill and especially its management reforms provisions, it would also like to see some changes in the bill’s language with regard to VOA’s mission. The union strongly defends the VOA Charter with all of its provisions. The union also believes that without management reforms imposed by Congress, Voice of America may cease to exist.
A small group of VOA Newsroom employees strongly attacked the union’s leadership in various venues for supporting the reform bill but does not appear to have wide support among union members, especially those working for VOA’s numerous language services and other rank-and-file employees.
According to sources, many VOA employees fear that the “Back Off Congress” op-ed published by a VOA English News correspondent has greatly damaged Voice of America in Congress and undermined support for VOA budget, its federal status, which most employees want, and even its future. Sources told BBG Watch that the majority of VOA employees do not agree with the tone and some of the key conclusions of the op-ed against H.R. 4490. They view it as extreme and harmful, even if they would also like Congress to define VOA’s mission more precisely and preserve its journalistic independence. VOA Newsroom supporters of the op-ed disagree.
Sources told BBG Watch that faced with majority attitudes in support of the Royce – Engel bill, some of its opponents in the VOA Newsroom showed willingness at the union meeting to work with the union’s leadership to propose changes in the bill that would strengthen VOA’s journalistic independence while reforming the management that has nearly destroyed the Newsroom and created one of the worst workplaces in the federal government.
A well-informed source who once held a top position at VOA said that AFGE Local 1812 has a much better understanding of VOA’s mission and the importance of Congressional support for VOA than the current VOA management or those who were reportedly thanked by a VOA top executive for publicly opposing the bill.
A union source said that AFGE Local 1812 leadership has been working with members of Congress and Congressional staffers on improving the bill while trying to repair damage and show respect and appreciation for the role many supportive members of Congress have played in the past in protecting VOA budgets and services, including VOA English. Alienating these supporters on the Hill is the last thing VOA employees should be doing right now, another source told BBG Watch.