Are federal employee unions too political?

Tuesday - 6/1/2010, 5:40pm EDT

!YOUR_TURN_06-02-2010.mp3

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

If you're an avid reader of Senior Correspondent Mike Causey's columns (and we know you are), you know that we've been examining the issue of the federal pay freeze and union membership.

"By rejecting a 2011 pay freeze the Senate cut the legs out from under what would have been the greatest recruiting tool federal unions ever had," said Causey on Tuesday.

Needless to say, we got a lot of emails about unions in general, union membership, and even about the politicalization of unions.

So, is it true? Do unions always support the Democrats over Republicans? Are they overly political?

This week on the show, we talk with two representatives of federal employee organizations.

Colleen Kelley is president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and says her organization doesn't make it a point to support either party. They're looking out for feds only.

"I will stand by NTEU's record for who we support in elections and for who we support in return for their support of federal employees. NTEU has one criteria, and one criteria only for those who we support on Capitol Hill and that is how they vote on federal employee issues. Nothing else. Party affiliation does not matter, and even how they vote on issues that are not about federal employees. While those may be important to everyone, everyone has to decide what's most important to them. NTEU is not an expert on non-federal employee issues [but] we are experts on federal employee issues. We track very closely how those on Capitol Hill vote, and that's where our support is going."

Kelley added that the NTEU does not control how many Democrats versus how many Republicans support federal employee issues.

She says she wants to see more votes on both sides of the aisle in support of pay and benefits issues for feds, but NTEU goes by voting records alone when it comes to support.

"If the numbers come out that there are more Democrats that are supported by NTEU than Republicans, I would say lay their voting records out. That's because that's the way the votes go on federal employee issues, whether it's about pay or retirement or about FERS sick leave credit or about paternity leave or collective bargaining rights -- those issues are very easy to track and, as I say, I stand NTEU's record next to those facts any day of the week."

She added that her organization reaches out to everyone on Capitol Hill and that she's gotten support from members of both political parties in the past.

Judy Park is legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) and says her organization has always tried to work with both sides of the aisle to get the job done because both parties have controlled Congress at one point or another over the years.

"NARFE, along with allies from the federal and Postal groups, have been successful in getting something [done], or preventing something from happening, which is often the case, regardless of who's in control. We've always had friends on both sides of the aisles. NARFE, at times, [has looked] to build support for certain bills . . . and we've had 75 percent of both the House and Senate going our way. 75 percent is not what either party is holding. So, we've had good friends coming forward from both sides."

Park also says she is always shocked to hear criticism that demands that her organization or others not get political when it comes to legislation for federal employees.

"That's where it all happens -- in the political arena. If you're not participating under that political tent in that political arena . . . then you're not doing your job. That's where you have to be. It's in the political arena that legislation germinates and it's in the political arena where it's incubated and, hopefully, where you finally find success. To say -- 'We're not going to be political' -- is just a fool's statement."

Additional Information:

Federal News Radio: GOP lawmakers pitch fed workforce reduction bill

Federal News Radio: No federal pay freeze for now