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July 31, 2000

Securities Regulators Have a Union

By William Hoffman

Securities and Exchange Commission employees have voted overwhelmingly to join a union.

The vote means that the 2,800 SEC staffers can be represented by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).

That's barring a successful appeal of the election by the SEC.

"It was a heavy turnout. More than 75 percent of eligible [employees] came out to vote," said Michael R. Clampitt, a leader of the union drive.

Outcome of Vote

All told, 968 staffers voted in favor of unionization while 373 opposed the move. The New York SEC office is a union shop but plans to join the NTEU bargaining unit if it is certified.

In a second vote, SEC employees, designated as professional' under a federal labor definition, approved by 452 to 410 the formation of a single bargaining unit, instead of separate units for professionals and non-professionals.

"This is the best possible situation," said Colleen M. Kelley, national president of the NTEU in Washington.

A single bargaining unit prevents SEC management from establishing two classes of employees and treating them differently, she said.

Gains Ahead

SEC spokesman Chris Ullman declined comment on the election results.

But in a statement the agency filed several months ago with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, it argued that a single bargaining unit could not appropriately represent employees at the SEC's 11 offices.

Clampitt, who is an attorney advisor in the division of corporation finance, said retention bonuses, over-time pay, and merit-based performance awards will be among the gains newly unionized attorneys, accountants, and staff seek when contract negotiations begin soon.

Clampitt said SEC employees also plan to negotiate flex-time and telecommuting options; more part-time employment positions; on-site child care or subsidies for off-site care; and travel gain-sharing', allowing employees to keep half the per diem expenses they save when traveling.

Federal civil service employees, including those at the SEC, are prohibited from striking, or from negotiating directly for pay increases.

Pay Parity

However, the Competitive Market Supervision Act (S. 2107), approved by the Senate Banking Committee the day of the union vote, would establish pay parity' between other federal financial regulatory agencies, and SEC attorneys and accountants who are paid considerably less.

Highlighting Parity

Pay parity' is supported by SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, and Phil Gramm (R-Texas), sponsor of S.2107.

Clampitt noted that copies of a letter from Gramm to Levitt, touting S. 2107's pay parity' provisions and the July 13 mark-up of the bill, appeared in employee's mailboxes the day before the union vote.

"It was pretty obvious what they were up to," Clampitt said.

"I'm feeling more relief than any type of gloating or euphoria," Clampitt said of the successful conclusion of his almost 20-month effort to win union representation for SEC employees.

"Now it's time for everybody to move on. A year from now everyone will agree this was the right move," he added.

One Voice

"It's critically important that SEC employees will now have a forum in which they can make their voice heard, and heard as one," Kelley said.

The union vote could help stanch the "brain-drain" of qualified SEC employees that Levitt has acknowledged in congressional testimony is a prime management concern, she said.

"But I've seen no indication that the agency is interested in that discussion," Kelley said.

"The agency has gone to such lengths to prevent the process from reaching this stage," she said, referring to the SEC's failed appeals to the Federal Labor Relations Authority to stop the union drive. "I'm hopeful, but I'm worried," she added.