THE MISERABLE MORALE MORASS

The results of the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) will be announced soon. You completed the survey, didn’t you? Or perhaps you didn’t, because your morale is so low and, after years of completing these surveys, hoping upon hope that they would make a difference, you realize that the Agency’s high-ranking officials (let’s not call them leaders) are unable and unwilling to raise morale and the surveys did not make any significant difference.

You didn’t need a calendar anymore to know when FEVS season came around – all of a sudden the Agency began prioritizing internal communication in the hope that maybe the survey numbers will tick up in some categories so it can claim, as it always does, that “we are headed in the right direction.” This year, we got 3 x 5 multi-colored cards titled “Set the Direction.” The cards encouraged us to complete the survey to “help build the road-map to improve our Agency.” The Agency’s top officials, bereft of credibility, lessened that credibility even more with a statement like that. Does anyone believe the survey results will be used as a road-map to improve the agency? Anyone? Years and years of surveys haven’t resulted in raised morale. Why would this survey do so? According to last year’s survey results the BBG remained in last place among mid-sized federal agencies and VOA ranked near the bottom of hundreds of sub-agencies. BBG and VOA have been bottom-dwellers for years, despite the (half-hearted) efforts on the part of Agency officials to raise morale. Virtually everything they have done has failed.

The card listed “just few initiatives” (the “a” was left out; good proofreading job there!) “that were developed based on FEVS feedback.” It then goes on to list eight initiatives; many of them are thin, some of them seem to exist only on paper, and all of them exist in a healthy agency – feedback or not. Agency officials seem to want credit for implementing initiatives as a result of FEVS feedback which should have been in place regardless of the FEVS!

What’s next, credit for the building having a roof? Credit for clean water, heat and AC? These hapless officials seem to want credit for implementing ideas that a good leader would have long ago put in place. As important and even substantial as a few of the initiatives are, to give credit to FEVS feedback for implementing them reveals the officials for what they are – incompetent, unimaginative and devoid of initiative.

We don’t need any more surveys or ice cream socials or promises. We need action and strong, imaginative, bold and competent leaders.

Don’t list as an accomplishment that you created the Office of Workforce Support & Development. This office should have been set up years ago.

Don’t ask for plaudits for increasing funding for the awards program; fully funded awards programs should have been in place years ago. Agencies that rank high in the FEVS surveys have robust awards programs.

Finally, after years of our pleading, the Agency has increased its training budget, another initiative the Agency credits to FEVS feedback. After much prompting by AFGE Local 1812, the Agency brought in TSP trainers (both in Washington and Miami). The classes were wildly popular. Why did it take Union pressure for the Agency to do what it should have been doing all along? You can’t just say you care about employees – you have to actually take action that shows employees you care about them. And recently, after more Union pressure, the Agency has agreed to offer classroom training on federal benefits for new, mid-career and soon-to-retire employees. Kudos, but why did it take pressure from the Union for these classes to be scheduled?

The Agency seems to want credit for implementing WebTA. The system seems popular among employees, but should have been implemented a decade ago. Why is this listed as something the Agency wants credit for?

ePerformance is listed, as well. Again, the Agency wants compliments for instituting an electronic system to replace a paper-based system. This should have been done at least ten years ago. You want credit for putting something in place ten years after you should have done so? Really?

We are told that Workplace, an internal Facebook, has been launched to improve internal communication. Yet it is no better than email, and few have signed on. The Cohen building network external Facebook page is much more popular, more trusted and more robust. We cringe at the thought of the cost to create, implement and operate Workplace.

As well, we are told that full-time staff have been designated to support internal communication. Who are they? What do they do? What have they accomplished?

Perhaps the most egregious example of an initiative claimed by the Agency is Leadership 20/20 and 360 Assessments for Managers. You want credit for launching a leadership program? And this came as a result of FEVS feedback? You needed FEVS feedback to know that you needed to have a leadership program? And you’re again promising effective 360 assessments for managers after years and years of promising that you would? You expect us to believe you? Please.

It is clear that the Agency’s high-ranking officials are clueless, uninspired and are in positions for which they are not qualified. This Agency needs a turnaround specialist who is willing to clear out the upper level deadwood and eager to implement bold, dramatic policies and procedures. Without such leadership, we will continue to founder, plugging along until Congress finally decides to put us out of our misery.

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A TRUE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE HOLIDAY

In the United States, at the beginning of the industrial revolution, citizens began forming unions to fight for their freedom and human dignity while at work. The times were not that far removed from the American Revolution and many had fought in the Revolution or had fathers who had done so. The nature of work was changing and supposedly free men were not ready to accept the way work was structured in the newly forming industrial factories. Many employees felt that they were being treated as “wage slaves”. Unions were being formed to push back against the unrestrained power of management at work and to remind employers that those working for them are human beings and deserving of human dignity and respect. Is there anything more patriotic and American than that? After all, the United States was formed when the citizens of relatively powerless separate colonies united together to fight collectively for their rights. Labor Day is a celebration of those who have to work for a living and to celebrate the ability to unite together to advance their rights collectively.

On this Labor Day federal employee Union members will also be celebrating a legal victory. On August 25, 2018 Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson issued a ruling that blocked the implementation of major portions of three Executive Orders issued by President Trump on May 25, 2018. Executive Order 13836 would have severely restricted federal unions right to bargain collectively. Executive Order 13839 would allow for the firing of federal employees while severely limiting their right to appeal the charges against them. Executive Order 13837 would have severely restricted the time Union officials could use to represent bargaining unit members while “on the clock”.

Executive Order 13837 relabeled official time as “taxpayer funded union time” in order to misleadingly portray it as being something other than agency work. The use of official time by employee union representatives is a favorite target of pro-corporate/anti-worker interest groups. According to their thinking, in the case of federal workers, employees on official time are working for the union – not the government agency. But that is not the case.

Union representatives on official time are not employees of some third party organization. Union officials are employees of the government agency who act as representatives for their fellow employees. In some cases, employees seeking assistance from Union representatives may not even be Union members. The Federal Service Labor Management Relations Act (FSLMRA) gave most federal employees the right to bargain collectively but it required an open shop. In other words, if employees voted to be represented by a Union, employees could not be required to become a member of the Union. Nevertheless, the Union was required to represent all the employees in the bargaining unit whether an employee was a Union member or not.

Unlike in the private sector, federal employees’ employer is the federal government and they are therefore entitled to some of the protections guarantied under the United States Constitution from their employer. One of those rights is due process. So, for example, if a federal employee is charged with some work infraction, because his/her employer is the federal government s/he must be given due process. Someone in the agency must represent the employee in whatever appellate system is established to provide the required due process. The work of the Union representative, in this case, is not the work of some outside entity. It is agency work. Someone has to do it and those who wrote the FSLMRA determined that it would be best if, instead of having the agency appoint the employee’s representative (who would not necessarily act solely in the interest of the employee), the employee would get to choose who his or her representative is. This is done democratically because that is how Union representatives are selected.

Employees have the right to determine if they will form a Union or not through a democratic election. If a Union is elected, Union members then vote on who their representatives are. When you celebrate Labor Day this year remember that there is probably no better example of democracy than a Union meeting and Union elections and there is probably no better reflection of what our revolutionary forefathers fought for than protecting one’s human rights through the collective power of a Union.

Red for Feds

The rain held off and thousands of federal workers and supporters rallied in front of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia building on Wednesday, July 25th. The date and location were significant because Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was scheduled to hear the case filed by several unions against the Trump May 25th Executive Orders, that seek to severely restrict collective bargaining for federal employees, at that court house.

Several prominent politicians joined AFGE President, J. David Cox on the stage to address the crowd that appeared as a sea of red. The rally was organized by AFGE and the theme was Red for Feds. Federal employees were encouraged to wear red to show support. Among those showing support for federal employees collective bargaining rights included Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Jamie Ruskin from Maryland and Congressman Gerry Connelly and Don Beyer from Virginia. Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, Congressional Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi and Senator Bernie Sanders also showed their support. Richard Trumpka, President of the AFL-CIO addressed the throng as well.

President Cox stressed the fact that this rally was not just about one union but was to show support for the labor movement as a whole. Employees’ right to collective bargaining has been under attack in this country and the Executive Orders are just another example of that onslaught against working people.

RedforFeds

RIDE THE WAVE

We have long suspected that the Agency wants to privatize. But, it seems, that Congress won’t allow it – at least not at one fell swoop. So, it appears, that Agency officials are engaged in an end-run around Congress and using hiring practices to implement de facto privatization. How? Consider what happens when your colleagues resign, retire or are fired; they are almost never replaced with full-time staff – at best they are replaced by contractors. At worst, their positions go unfilled while the branch is expected to produce the same level of content as before. If we hear “you have to learn to do more with less” one more time we will scream.

Even low-level supervisors are telling us that when they lose people they are not being allowed to fill their positions; sometimes they are given a little bit of contractor money to help accomplish the mission.

Examine the vacancy announcements of the past year; we estimate 90% of them are for GS-13 positions and above. Think about that: in the past year more than a hundred full-time GS-12 and below employees have left the Agency and fewer than a handful have been replaced by full-time employees.

It seems obvious what the Agency is doing. And no one seems willing or able to stop it.

At this point what you need to do is protect yourself: those at the GS-12 level and below are likely the last generation of full-time government employees who will staff the Agency. In a few years, as a result of retirements, resignations and terminations, this Agency will almost assuredly consist of GS-13s and above managing hundreds of contractors.

It appears for now that the Agency is not contemplating RIFs as a way to reduce headcount, but it is looking for other ways to do so, either removal or encouraging retirement or resignation. Our advice? Keep your nose clean and stay on the straight and narrow path; if you do, the Agency will probably let you remain and someday retire. But you will increasingly be a minority, surrounded by contractors with none of the benefits you enjoy. And, because of President Trump’s executive orders, you have fewer protections than ever before. You are almost an at-will employee. It’s a new day, so ride the wave and know that, if nothing changes, the way the Agency is staffed in the future will not be anything like it has been for generations.

AFGE Local 1812 Takes Part in Wreath Laying Ceremony

VOC Photo 2018

AFGE Local 1812 President Timothy Shamble and VOA Mandarin Service employee Huchen Zhang with wreath.

Friday morning, June 8, 2018 was another bright sunny late Spring day. Officials from various embassies and interest groups gathered to remember the more than 100 million victims of communism in a wreath laying ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial at the intersection of New Jersey and Massachusetts Avenues NW in Washington, DC. The memorial is based on the statue that freedom loving Chinese citizens raised in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

AFGE Local 1812 once again took part in the wreath laying ceremony. Representing the members was the Local’s President, Timothy Shamble.

Each year the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation presents the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom to an individual or institution who has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to freedom and democracy in opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny.

This year’s recipient, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, was awarded the medal posthumously. It was accepted by his wife and daughter. He was the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba.

AFGE Local 1812 General Vice President Dave Allison Retires

Allison Photo

Dave Allison is retiring from the Voice of America effective June 30, 2018. Dave served as the General Vice President of AFGE Local 1812 since March 2014. Before that he served as the Local’s Head Steward and as a Steward.

Dave worked for the Voice of America as a television studio technician and helped the Local with his audio/visual skills.

Most significantly, Dave served on the negotiating team for the latest Negotiated Labor-Management Agreement (NLMA) which the Union just signed on June 7, 2018. The grueling negotiations lasted years and Dave was instrumental in presenting the employees’ positions. Those who took part in the negotiations will always remember “Dave’s analogies” in which he skillfully poked holes in many a management argument.

Dave remains General Vice President until the end of his term which ends June 30, 2018. He will remain a member of AFGE Local 1812 as a retired member.

We thank Dave for all his contributions and wish him well in his retirement.

MORALE CRISIS

This Spring, AFGE Local 1812 released a survey designed to give employees an opportunity to state for themselves why they believed the morale at this Agency is so abysmal. Most of the responses focused on the Voice of America and Radio/TV Marti. The Union released two versions, one for Union members only, and one for anyone who wished to participate including managers and contractors. The results for each were similar.

LowMoraleEmoticons

The goal of this survey process is to allow employees to use their own words (not pre-packaged choices) to express morale related concerns, to distill those thoughts into items badly in need of attention and change, then communicate the summary results to employees and upper management. The summary:

1. Honesty

Over and over again, respondents said the Agency is not honest about poor decisions and failures; then the Agency doesn’t want to honestly deal with the negative consequences. Not only that, the Agency appears to prefer that those that speak up and seek change for the future remain quiet; such persons may even be marginalized and treated poorly.

Upper management should admit they don’t know how to create fundamental positive change (including problems in management) that would raise morale. The Agency needs help from people who can make a positive difference, not just in word and intention, but in real follow through. Over-promising and under-delivering ends up making things worse by creating expectations that go unmet.

2. Insight

When the Agency wishes to hire new management or a consultant from outside of the Agency, that person’s track record outside of the Agency should be closely examined. If a person is hired from within the Agency, do not assume that skills at certain non-management tasks mean a person will be a good manager. The Agency willfully ignores poor new-manager performance and fails to remove the new manager during the first year probationary term. (How many new managers have been removed during their probationary period?)

Management does not examine itself well enough, does not evaluate management performance with genuine management performance measurements, and does not remove the worst from the Agency unless the manager has a problem with a non-management issue such as time and attendance. Instead, a very poor manager, after damaging one work group, is moved to another work group. Managers who are good at ‘selling themselves’ are kept on, their poor performance ignored by their superiors.

Pay close enough attention to identify and stop political agenda-serving news products.

3. Balance

The workforce of those who actually make the product is continually pressed to do more while their numbers grow less; meanwhile, the number of new managers grows.

4. Trust

Upper management does not listen well enough to either rank-and-file nor middle and lower management about existing and developing problems. Upper management only wants to hear positives. Many requests for positive change are met with answers that appear to come from this kind of management thinking: “What’s the easiest way to say ‘no’?”

Some employees work in areas where they see managers trying to use Agency resources improperly. Some managers develop a bad attitude and act in ways that harm the career of an employee who does not simply accede to the manager’s wishes.

5. Equivalency

Employees see obvious and ongoing favoritism, cronyism, even nepotism, that is allowed and continues unchecked.

6. Stagnancy

There are managers who do not improve and make no effort to see their employees genuinely grow; managers who aspire only to a mistake-free status quo or to doing more, mistake-free, with less.

7. Respect

Upper management doesn’t acknowledge, to the point of devoting time and resources to fundamental change, communication from lower level management or employees. Decisions are made at an upper level without consulting those who accomplish the work and everyone down the line is expected to successfully implement these decisions even if they can be seen to be poor choices.

Management gives insufficient opportunity for existing employees to show skill, talent, innovation, and creativity beyond the cell into which an employee is slotted, and when there is a situation where an employee does show something above and beyond, the employee may or may not be meaningfully recognized for it, but that employee is almost certainly going to be asked to simply return to former duties while others, who may have the ability to look good on paper while not having the real-world talent needed, are hired for areas of greater responsibility and remuneration.

Managers who are separated from the actual processes of preparation and production only consult with each other before making impacting decisions. People who work and have expertise where the rubber meets the road should be consulted and the information they provide should be given weight that is not easily ignored.

When a manager or supervisor makes choices that disrespect employees, the manager or supervisor should be called out for such things; Labor Employee Relations and other management support teams should not be expected to aid any manager in the poor treatment of an employee.

8. Integrity and Accountability

The Agency has several practices that are not wholly in accordance with law and regulation, and rather than do it’s best to form policy and practice from the core of what law and regulation intend, the Agency concerns itself with trying to legitimize it’s dubious choices. The Agency does not wholly accede to proper external authorities when it forms policy and practice, and the Agency looks for ways not to follow through when an external authority finds fault with something the Agency has done or is doing. This often results in greater waste than compliance from the beginning.

The Legislative and Executive branch give a certain trust to management when management is granted certain authorities. When the Agency fails to have the integrity to be self-accountable, and external mechanisms of accountability are weak, the Agency often will do what it can get away with rather than meeting it’s challenges while maintaining a genuine and public intent to adhere to law, regulation, and decisions of external authorities.

9. Mission Failure

On a day-to-day practical basis, the majority of management makes choices and takes action not looking to the mission itself, but to the goals, policy, and budget that have been placed before them. To the extent that the goals, policy, and budget have not been formed with the best fulfillment of the mission hand-in-hand with best practices regarding employees, the Agency fails to fulfill the mission with true excellence and leaves a low morale workforce in the wake of its efforts.

A fundamental examination of mission fulfillment and employee treatment is badly needed.

The Agency’s Initial Management Reaction

When the Union shared preliminary survey indications with upper management, we heard these two basic criticisms: 1) the number of employees responding to the survey was questioned, implying that the results were not truly reflective of the opinions of many employees; 2) there weren’t any action items which management could quickly address.

The Union Responded

The number of employee responses was indeed not high. This does not make the responses less representative or invalid. The Union heard from several employees who did not participate in this survey and who said that they had already participated in other surveys that were supposed to make a difference and needed change was not seen – what was the point of taking another? How many felt the same way and never spoke up?

Almost every response to the survey dealt with fundamental attitudes and functions, not simple solutions. Extra-curricular activities attended by a small minority of employees and chats with leadership may help camaraderie and communication, but when needed fundamental change does not come, these lesser things are seen as shallow or hollow.

What next?

The Union would still like to hear from you regarding the survey summary with specific information pertaining to the points made above. Are the issues the Union survey raised representative of how you see things? Are these points valid? What specifically needs to happen in your work group that would bring positive change?

Four ways we may hear from you: comment here; call or stop by the Union office; send an email to the Union (contact page) ; look for and participate in a Union follow-up survey coming soon.

A big thank you to all who participated! And to all who are reading this, please help the Union do more by not letting this effort end here – respond to the upcoming survey or reply to this article in any way you are able.

Thank you.

COMPENSATORY TIME USE

WhichPay

AFGE Local 1812 has become aware of a major push by the Agency to ensure employees use their compensatory time before it expires. Many employees have been surprised to learn, when they request annual leave, that they are being required to use their earned compensatory time before their annual leave.

This, apparently, is an initiative coming from the Budget Office (as part of a cost saving initiative, so we hear). You should know that this initiative impacts employees differently depending on whether you are “Exempt” or “Non-exempt” from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (If you are not sure whether you are exempt or non-exempt check box #10 on your latest pay statement. It will indicate etiher “E” for Exempt or “N” for Non-exempt.)

First, there are some situations in which compensatory time cannot be earned and the Agency must pay overtime. If you are Exempt from the FLSA (and over the GS-10 rate), the Agency can choose to compensate your irregular overtime work with compensatory time. For Exempt employees who work regular overtime, you must be paid Title 5 overtime pay.

If you are Non-exempt from the FLSA and you work irregular overtime, it is your choice on whether you will receive overtime pay or compensatory time. If you work regular overtime, there is no choice, you MUST be paid overtime pay (time and a half).

The Agency policy on the use of compensatory time states that the supervisor who approves the overtime work, which will result in compensatory time off for the employee, should schedule the time off at the same time the overtime work is approved and the compensatory time is earned. This doesn’t always happen and if it doesn’t happen the supervisor, in consultation with the employee, is supposed to schedule the time off as soon as possible before the compensatory time expires (26 pay periods after it was earned).

If compensatory time expires before it is used, The Agency will forfeit an FLSA Exempt employee’s expired compensatory time. An exception to this would be if the employee requested the compensatory time off and that request was turned down.

So it is actually beneficial for Exempt employees to make sure their compensatory time is scheduled and used. Otherwise, they risk losing it.

For Non-exempt employees, if the compensatory time expires, the compensatory time is converted to FLSA overtime pay (time and one half for every hour of overtime worked).

Supervisors are being given a spread sheet from the Budget Office alerting them if any employee they supervise has any compensatory time that is about to expire and instructing the supervisor to schedule the compensatory time off. Having the Agency pay overtime for compensatory time would be a black mark for the supervisor.

There are two cases where the supervisor is banned from substituting an employee’s compensatory time for annual leave: 1) within the last three months of the year, and 2) for any period of the employee’s vacation period (this is the period of extended leave employees are supposed to be given the opportunity to select at the beginning of every year).

The idea behind the ban on substituting compensatory time for annual leave during the last three months of the year is to prevent the Agency from forcing employees into a use or lose situation for their annual leave.

This ban is not the best situation for Exempt employees because expired compensatory time is forfeited but there is the possibility that use or lose annual leave may be restored. Exempt employees should make sure they use up any compensatory time that may be expiring at the end of the year instead of their annual leave and then seek a restoration of any annual leave that was lost.

For Non-exempt employees, any compensatory time that expires is converted to overtime pay, so if the supervisor does not schedule it, the ban on substituting annual leave for the two reasons stated above is beneficial for the Non-exempt employee. This is because expiring compensatory time is not forfeited for Non-exempt employees; it is converted to time and one half pay. The Non-exempt employee can use up his or her annual leave to avoid a use or lose situation and then cashing out any expiring compensatory time.

If you have any questions about this please contact your AFGE Local 1812 representative.

BBG AGREES TO WITHDRAW LETTER OF REPRIMAND ISSUED TO EMPLOYEE

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The system does work, at times. But you may have to seek help from outside the Agency. Case in point: the matter of an employee of the Voice of America who reported what he believed were prohibited personnel practices committed by his Division Director. While requesting that his Division Director not be informed that he had reported the allegations, the employee informed the Agency Director of Personnel, the VOA Director, and the BBG CEO of the suspected violations.

Lo and behold, shortly thereafter, and just days after the BBG unveiled its Management Accountability Charter, the employee received a letter of reprimand from his Division Director based on the allegations contained in the information the employee provided to Agency officials! The employee sought to meet with the Agency officials about the Letter of Reprimand he received. In one case one of the officials referred him back to another one of the officials. Another official told him he needed to discuss it with his Division Director! Nothing was done about the Letter of Reprimand.

The BBG Management Accountability Charter supposedly guarantees employees that managers and supervisors at all levels will ensure that BBG employees will “work in a zero tolerance environment for favoritism, retaliation, and discrimination based upon race, sex, religion, color, age, national origin, disability, Union activity, sexual orientation, and whistleblower activity.”

The employee subsequently sought whistleblower protection from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). After investigating the complaint, the OSC found that the employee’s disclosures were likely protected by the provisions of 5 USC §2302(b)(8).

As a result, the OSC contacted the BBG and an agreement was reached between the BBG and the OSC. The BBG agreed to withdraw the Letter of Reprimand and to “host OSC-led training efforts regarding protected whistleblowing, retaliation, and other prohibited personnel practices.”

AFGE Local 1812 is pleased that the BBG agreed to withdraw the Letter of Reprimand and to allow OSC-led training of Agency officials in issues of whistleblowing, retaliation, and other prohibited personnel practices. They are certainly in need of such training. However, that is not nearly enough.

The BBG guaranteed employees “zero tolerance” for retaliation for whistleblower activity. Why is the Division Director, who presented the Letter of Reprimand to the employee, not being disciplined? In addition, it’s unusual for a supervisor to write an official Letter of Reprimand by himself or herself. Did anyone in the Office of Personnel or anyone else in the Agency advise the supervisor on this matter or help him draft the letter? Shouldn’t there be some consequences?

The employees of the VOA cannot possibly take the BBG’s Management Accountability Charter seriously if those involved in this retaliation action are absolved without any consequences after blatantly ignoring the law.

Survey for Everyone (BBG/VOA)

ForMemsEveryone

This is for members and non-members of AFGE Local 1812 who work at this Agency.

AFGE Local 1812 would like to know your thoughts about morale at the Agency. We have created a simple, four question survey that you may access online.

Members:

Please check the personal email address that you, as a Union member, provided to the Union for a message regarding the survey. If you have not recently seen it, please check the other folders in your email, including ‘junk’ or ‘spam’. If you still don’t see the message, please call or stop by the Union office to provide a personal email address where we may send the link for the survey to you.

For non-members:

Here is a link to a five question survey. Please feel free to use it to share your thoughts regarding morale at the Agency.

https://s.surveyplanet.com/SJxgdyIh_G

For everyone:

To keep your response anonymous, do NOT provide your email address at the beginning of the survey. You may complete the survey without giving an email address; your answers will count just as much.

Thoughts will be compiled into bullet point summaries in order that the Union may ask for changes by the Agency based on your suggestions.

Thank you for giving some thought and time to this process.