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March 1, 2000

Washington Watch - SEC Plays Hardball With Union Organizers

By William Hoffman

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  • Washington Watch - SEC Plays Hardball With Union Organizers
  • Page 2

The outcome of the efforts to unionize Securities and Exchange Commission employees depends on how faithfully the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) protects the union certification process, union advocates say.

If this body sticks to its director's ruling that a vote should take place, the union drive can succeed, union organizers say.

The FLRA late last year conducted a hearing on the SEC's request that separate bargaining units be established for agency employees at the Washington headquarters and at the 10 regional and district offices.

The FLRA regional director ruled on Jan. 7 that the SEC's request was without merit and directed that an election be held.

The SEC has 60 days to request a review of the decision. SEC general counsel David M. Becker indicated shortly afterwards that the agency would apply for that review. Yet by mid-February, he hadn't. Michael R. Clampitt, attorney advisor in the SEC's division of corporation finance and a leader of the union drive, told Traders Magazine, "I'm sure they're going to file [in early March], just to drag it out."

Clampitt said 700 of the agency's 1,800 employees (1,200 of whom live in Washington) have signaled support for the election.

SEC Position

The SEC declined to comment on the matter, except to send a copy of Becker's statement. "We believe the [FLRA] decision is erroneous and does not recognize the significant differences in workplace conditions and employee positions between the home office and the field offices, as well as among the field offices," Becker wrote. "If left standing, the decision could result in a collective bargaining agreement that would impose uniform Commission-wide policies regarding workplace issues, depriving field offices and headquarters employees of the ability to adopt policies tailored to local conditions."

SEC employees would be organized under the umbrella of the 155,000 member National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).

Plea to Levitt

Colleen M. Kelley, national president of the NTEU, said she talked with SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt a couple of weeks after the FLRA decision, and asked him not to appeal. She said Levitt told her he was receiving legal advice to the contrary, and was inclined to follow it.

She said she understood, but asked Levitt to expedite the agency's request for an FLRA review. That would avoid an agonizing wait, she said. She said he told her he would do that.

There is no statutory time limit in which the full three-member FLRA board must hear an appeal if the SEC requests a review, Kelley noted. Nor is there any deadline under which the FLRA board's decision must be rendered, she said. "Employees could be left hanging in this limbo. I do believe they're being held hostage to a process," Kelley said. "Let's just do it."

Clampitt and Kelley said SEC staff reaction to the stalemate has been two-fold. On the one hand, Kelley said, "The employees I talk to are only more assured that this is the right thing to do." On the other hand, employees feel even more estranged from a management that Clampitt said has recently resorted to intimidation.