Bureau of Land Management workers unionize in wake of Trump-era upheaval

Federal workers who help oversee hundreds of millions of acres of federal land have formed a union.

Employees at the headquarters of the Land Management Office voted 116 to 20 in favor of joining the National Union of Treasury Employees in a vote count held on Wednesday, the union said. The new union would include about 200 workers based in Washington and regional offices across the country.

Part of the Department of the Interior, BLM is responsible for managing about one-third of all federal lands, or about 10% of the landmass of the United States, most of which is in the West. A handful of agency offices already have union representation, but the head office group is the largest to unionize to date. The union will include workers who manage BLM programs and budgets, as well as administrative staff.

Zoe Davidson, a BLM employee who helped organize the union, said agency employees generally love their jobs but want a louder voice when it comes to dealing with Congress and management. the agency. BLM has been understaffed for years, although President Joe Biden has offered to increase funding so the agency can hire more and fill vacancies.

“A union really gives you that voice on Capitol Hill,” said Davidson, a New Mexico-based botanist. “Congress is putting a lot of pressure on us. We always get these requests from Congress… but they never give us a boost in budget or permanent employees to do this stuff.

Workers also hope to achieve greater job security and prevent any major unilateral changes from leaders.

BLM employees have been pushed around under the Trump administration, which has sought to disperse employees from DC headquarters to western offices, on the grounds that they should be closer to the majority of public lands. Most employees were reluctant to uproot their lives, and the relocation led to nearly 300 people ― the vast majority of affected workers ― resign or retire early. (Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested that attrition was the real goal.)

“We are under a very pro-union administration. We would like to create more unions.

– Zoe Davidson

Biden’s Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in September that the agency restore its seat in Washington while keeping many workers in a “western headquarters” in Grand Junction, Colorado. Davidson said many of the head office employees were recently hired and are scattered across offices in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City and elsewhere, and they may not want to also not be moving.

The unionization discussion predated the entire offshoring upheaval, but the episode made it clear to many workers that they wanted a seat at the table with agency executives, according to Davidson. Workers at her BLM office in New Mexico voted last year to unionize with NTEU, leading employees at the corporate office to contact her and her co-workers.

Federal workers are eligible to form unions, although they don’t have all the same rights as their private sector counterparts. They can’t negotiate directly over wages or go on strike, but their unions can have a say in the promotion process, schedules and discipline, and make it harder for agency leaders to make changes. adults without consultation.

The Biden White House has promoted collective bargaining as a way for workers to improve their jobs, including those in the federal government. The administration reversed some of Trump’s attacks on federal sector unions and took a more diplomatic approach to negotiations.

“We’re under a very pro-union administration,” Davidson said. “We have tons of interests coming our way… We would like to create more unions within the Bureau of Land Management.”

NTEU President Tony Reardon compared the BLM’s organizing effort to recent successes at employers like Starbucks and Amazon, where workers recently won historic victories.

“It’s no surprise that as the labor movement makes further inroads into the private sector, so does the federal sector, for workers everywhere share the same goal: to be treated with dignity and respect” , Reardon, whose union represents 150,000 workers at 34 federal agencies, said in a statement.

BLM employs about 9,000 workers across the country — about 95% of them outside of Washington — but there is a approximately 2,000 vacancies to the agency thanks in part to past federal hiring freezes. Defenders of public lands say the agency is chronically underfunded and ill-equipped to carry out its mission.

A Government Accountability Office Report as of last year, many head office positions had been open since 2016 and workers had been pulled from their normal jobs to help fill those roles. Vacancies rose after the Trump administration announced the headquarters move.

“We saw what happened without a union,” Davidson said. “We will see what a union can do to move forward.”

Correction: This story originally misstated the vote count in the election. The union won 116-20, not 136-20.