GAO analysts vote to form union

‘Ecstatic’ employees turn their focus to setting bargaining priorities

GAO’s union timeline

MAY: Leaders of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers file a petition May 8 to form a union after a majority of the Government Accountability Office’s analysts endorsed union representation. But talks on developing a format and schedule for an election soon break down.

JUNE:GAO’s top managers hire an outside law firm to represent them before the agency’s Personnel Appeals Board, which would run the election. IFPTE then files an unfair labor practice complaint against Comptroller General David Walker, GAO’s top official, asserting that Walker is interfering with employees’ right to unionize.

JULY: The outlook for immediate resolution is bleak. But in an unexpected move July 18, GAO and IFPTE announce an agreement to hold an election Sept. 19 after GAO officials agree not to contest the voting eligibility of nearly 500 Band IIB analysts, who are deemed supervisors by GAO management. At the same time, IFPTE officials accept GAO’s proposal to let entry-level analysts vote in the election. As many as 1,813 employees are eligible to vote.

SEPTEMBER: By an 897 to 445 margin, GAO analysts vote for union representation Sept. 19.

— Richard Walker

In the Government Accountability Office’s 86-year existence, its employees, who conjure images of green eyeshades and sleeve garters, have never been represented by a labor union — until now.

By a large majority, GAO analysts voted Sept. 19 to join the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents other highly skilled federal workers, including employees at the Congressional Research Service, NASA scientists and federal judges.

Jacqueline Harpp, a senior analyst and one of the union’s four official election observers at the vote count, said employees who supported the union were “ecstatic” about the results. “Our slogan for this campaign was ‘band together,’ and that’s exactly what we did,” she said.

Another analyst, Lise Levie, said the overall feeling among employees after the election “was as upbeat as I’ve ever seen it.”
Others employees agreed.

“In the last day or two, a number of people have come up to me and been excited and pleasantly surprised,” said John Vocino, a senior analyst who has worked at GAO for 20 years. “It hit us that it’s a new world and that we have an opportunity to really take part in it.”
In a statement, Comptroller General David Walker, who leads GAO, thanked employees who took the time to vote and promised that GAO management will bargain in good faith with the union.

Levie said the employees were “looking forward to a great working relationship” with Walker. “After the election, he left us a very nice phone message,” she said. “It was a very positive sign. I think we’re going to be a great team.”

Next, the employees will elect a council, write a constitution, determine bargaining priorities and negotiate a first contract with GAO management.

Levie said union leaders would seek input on bargaining priorities from all of GAO’s analysts, regardless of how they voted in the election. “We will be asking people in a systematic, methodologically rigorous way what they want.”

IFPTE president Greg Junemann said involvement of the national union in the employees’ next steps likely will be limited. “The analysts at GAO are experts at creating efficient organizations. You can bet that their bargaining surveys and their research will be data-driven.”

IFPTE filed a petition in May to form a union after more than half of GAO’s analysts endorsed a vote for unionization. In seeking to unionize, GAO analysts voiced concerns on a range of issues, mostly related to the agency’s two-year-old pay-for-performance system.
A major point of contention was the agency’s pay-banding system, which eliminated cost-of-living increases for some workers and categorized other analysts as overpaid in terms of prevailing market rates for similar positions.

Levie said it’s premature to identify the union’s bargaining priorities, but she said they would be “much broader than something regarding pay banding.”

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