Accreditation Since 2009, IFSA has tried multiple channels to seek a dialogue with Washington, but it has to date not been possible to arrange a single discussion with senior management at State.

Published on August 30th, 2013 | by Editor

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IFSA disappointed by State’s Continued Rejection of Social Dialogue

The International Foreign Service Association is disappointed by the State Department’s continued rejection of any form of social dialogue with the largest component of its workforce: the 56,000 locally hired employees of State and other foreign affairs agencies who work at U.S. Embassies and diplomatic posts around the world.  Unlike their Foreign and Civil Service colleagues, these employees have no access to an ombudsman in Washington or union.  As recently reported in Government Executive (GovExec.com), State most recently used “national security” as justification to reject discussion of a proposal that the U.S. based AFL-CIO & CLC labor union IFPTE represent locally hired employees.

Since 2009, IFSA has tried multiple channels to seek a dialogue with Washington, but it has to date not been possible to arrange a single discussion with senior management at State.  Around the world, the U.S. State Department proudly represents policies promoting worker rights and collective bargaining. Internally, however, the Department rejects even the most exploratory conversation on a mechanism for social dialogue with its largest personnel category, thereby perpetuating long-standing inequities that are out of place in the modern workplace.

In its most recent response to our efforts to open a dialogue, the State Department deploys the argument that allowing Embassy employees to be represented by a union would somehow threaten national security.  This implies that its locally hired employees present a security risk.  This assumption is not only completely contradicted by the facts, it is also humiliating to the thousands of loyal and dedicated LE staff, let alone the 12,000+ men and women who work in security positions all over the world protecting US diplomats, US citizens and embassy facilities.  Since 1998, far more LE staff members have been killed in the line of duty than have American Foreign Service employees. Thirty-four locally employed staff lost their lives in 1998 in the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In March this year, in response to a suicide attack on the US embassy in Ankara, Mustafa Akarsu, a locally-employed Turkish guard was killed protecting the Embassy when threw himself on the terrorist. Secretary Kerry presented the Thomas Jefferson Star medal to Mustafa Akarsu’s widow, in recognition of Mustafa’s heroism in protecting the embassy when it was under attack. “His sacrifice will not be forgotten,” read the award citation.

IFSA’s primary goal is a system of workplace justice that applies equitably to all employees. Today locally engaged staff find themselves into a legal void that excludes them from some basic rights that other personnel categories enjoy.*  LES do not have access to an appeals procedure in Washington in case of a conflict with a colleague or supervisor, nor is there any ombudsman in Washington, as has been proposed by the OIG.   Local employee’s ability to seek recourse in local courts in the case of labor disputes is also seriously restricted.  U.S. Embassies may invoke diplomatic immunity, refuse dialogue with local lawyers, and bring an abrupt end to court proceedings.  Even when it comes to a judgment that is favorable to the employee, an Embassy may invoke executive immunity and refuse to implement the judgment.  The injustice does not end there.  LES are not subject to the equal opportunity protections applicable to other staff, and there is no provision in U.S. law prohibiting discrimination against non-U.S. nationals employed outside the U.S.  Locally employed staff work in a legal vacuum, a system of Catch-22 rules and regulations, a compensation plan that lacks transparency, the absence of a system of accountability for management and a corporate culture that is not conducive to openness.  IFSA believes that representation by a US based  labor union could present a way out of this situation for both the State Department and its local employees.  We are committed to continuing to seek a dialogue aimed at breaking down the inequities in our workplace.

* Foreign Service Officers and Civil Service Officers are allowed to participate in labor unions, and this right is even hailed as a safeguard of the public interest in the following passage of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

SEC. 1001. 276 LABOR-MANAGEMENT POLICY.—
The Congress finds that—
(1) experience in both private and public employment indicates that the
statutory protection of the right of workers to organize, bargain collectively, and
participate through labor organizations of their own choosing in decisions which
affect them—
(A) safeguards the public interest,
(B) contributes to the effective conduct of public business, and
(C) facilitates and encourages the amicable settlement of disputes between
workers and their employers involving conditions of employment;
(2) the public interest demands the highest standards of performance by
members of the Service and the continuous development and implementation
of modern and progressive work practices to facilitate improved performance
and efficiency; and
(3) the unique conditions of Foreign Service employment require a distinct
framework for the development and implementation of modern, constructive,
and cooperative relationships between management officials and organizations
representing members of the Service.
275
22 U.S.C. 4086. Sec. 129(a) of the Department of State Authorization Act, Fiscal Years
1984 and 1985 (Public Law 98-164; 97 Stat. 1027) added sec. 906.
276
22 U.S.C. 4101.
Therefore, labor organizations and collective bargaining in the Service are in the
public interest and are consistent with the requirement of an effective and efficient
Government. The provisions of this chapter should be interpreted in a manner
consistent with the requirement of an effective and efficient Government.

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