Employees at two headquarters offices vote to unionize

Federal unions AFGE and NTEU hope to resolve some ongoing workforce challenges after two offices vote to organize.

The Defense Health Agency and the Bureau of Land Management are two of the latest offices to join union-covered federal employees.

Both the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union hope to help the two new bargaining units resolve some of their biggest pain points.

DHA and BLM face workforce challenges such as large numbers of remote workers and staff attrition following an office relocation.

At DHA, housed under the Department of Defense, employees elected AFGE to be their sole union representative. AFGE received 65% of the vote to represent non-professional staff and 61% of the vote to represent professional staff.

The agency, composed of about 2,200 employees, has limited face-to-face interactions, AFGE said. But that’s the reason the union called the election a “big win.”

“The DHA headquarters unit is spread out across the country and is mostly remote. The hurdles in organizing a dispersed workforce, working from home, who mostly don’t know each other, are significant,” AFGE wrote in a May 23 press release.

AFGE said an organizing model focused on having one-on-one conversations about workforce issues contributed to the union’s election win.

“We visited hundreds of workers at home and got them to commit to building a union based upon their own interest,” AFGE Membership and Organization Director David Cann stated. “They talked about building power and having a voice on the job. The DHA workers got engaged based upon the individual issues they cared about.”

DHA started as a small agency composed of civilian healthcare workers at D.C. military hospitals, but the workforce size will soon escalate significantly, AFGE wrote. DoD plans to transfer other healthcare workers to DHA later this year. The agency will then have about 65,000 civilian workers across the Navy, Army and Air Force.

If the union continues to win elections with DHA, AFGE said it could represent tens of thousands more workers in the coming months.

Another BLM office votes for union coverage

Employees at the headquarters office for the Bureau of Land Management also elected to receive union coverage, but for different reasons.

BLM workers at the Interior Department voted 116 to 20 for the National Treasury Employees Union to act as its exclusive representative, the union announced in a May 26 press release.

Employees organized in part because the Trump administration relocated headquarters facilities in 2020, under a larger effort to move over 300 positions to Colorado and other western states. As a result, about 90% of the workforce left the agency.

NTEU National President Tony Reardon said the decision to relocate headquarters was “unsettling” for many BLM employees.

“Workers were forced to choose between uprooting their families or losing their jobs,” he stated.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland eventually reversed the 2020 decision and maintained the Grand Junction office for BLM.

Those approximately 200 headquarters employees comprise the second BLM bargaining unit with NTEU, joining Santa Fe, New Mexico, which the union has represented for two years. The Santa Fe unit is currently in the process of negotiating its first collective bargaining agreement, NTEU said.

“This organic, employee-driven approach is the reason for the growing labor movement in this country,” Reardon stated. “Whether you are public or private sector, workers know they are stronger together.”

BLM, as well as DHA, represent part of a larger and growing effort under the President’s Management Agenda to advance federal union representation. The PMA plans to give federal employees more opportunities to join a union and have an effective voice in the workplace through union coverage.

By empowering the federal workforce, agencies can “remove barriers and obstacles to worker organizing in the federal workplace and advance positive and productive labor-management relations,” the PMA stated.

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