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January 1, 2000

SEC Sweatshop? Staff Revolt on Conditions: Hours, Benefits Are Among Grievances

By William Hoffman

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  • SEC Sweatshop? Staff Revolt on Conditions: Hours, Benefits Are Among Grievances

Long hours. Unpaid over-time. No flexible schedules. No childcare. Management cronyism. Cheapskate benefits.

If you thought this is a description of a sweatshop in Hondorus, think again. According to Michael Clampitt, it's a description of working life today - at the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S.

"[The SEC] is absolutely a sweatshop," claimed Clampitt, an attorney for the small business office of the division of corporate finance at the SEC in Washington.

As a reaction to these alleged conditions, Clampitt helped initiate a drive earlier this year to organize a union among the hundreds of attorneys, accountants, economists, and staff at the nation's chief securities regulator. He signed up the requisite 30 percent of the 1,800 SEC employees eligible to vote on union representation in four months.

"[It was done in] record time," noted Colleen M. Kelley, national president of the 155,000-employee strong National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the independent labor organization which will represent SEC workers if the union election certification succeeds.

Skinflint Managers

Clampitt painted a picture of the SEC as an institution filled with dedicated public servants cheated out of taxpayer subsidized subway passes by skinflint managers. "We don't have any of the benefits that any of the other comparable agencies get," he said.

"Management controls the promotions system and the grievance process," he said. Staff turnover is soaring as more professionals find it difficult to turn aside lucrative private sector employment offers," he added.

The SEC has posted on its Internet site substantially everything the agency has to say on the subject. A spokesperson declined further comment. Earlier this year, agency spokesman Chris Ullman said SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt had publicly stated that, in principal, he supports a union at the SEC.

Levitt initially seemed to greet the union drive with magnanimity: in a July 9 letter to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), the commission said it had no objection to the "appropriateness" of a proposed single bargaining unit to represent both headquarters and staff at 10 regional offices. A week later the SEC reiterated its affirmative commitment to the FLRA and the union.

Later the agency hired Krupin Greenbaum & O'Brien, a Washington law firm which specializes in representing management in labor disputes. The SEC said the labor law firm was hired to ensure that the SEC had covered its options before a union vote.

On Aug. 6, the SEC wrote to the FLRA asking it to decide if agency employees wouldn't be better served by having 11 separate bargaining units. Union proponents say that could split their ranks and reduce their bargaining power in negotiations with the SEC. The move at least delayed an employee vote on the union petition (which must garner a simple majority to win NTEU representation) until early this year.

SEC Reprisals