Labor Issues State Department does not wish to recognize IFSA

Published on October 14th, 2010 | by Editor

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State Department does not wish to Recognize IFSA

Latest development in the saga of IFSA requesting recognition by the State Department. On September 20, 2010 Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Manzanares sent the following letter to the “leadership of the International Foreign Service Association (IFSA)”. This is State’s response to IFSA’s third request to be recognized as a representative of the Locally Engaged Staff on a worldwide basis. HR/OE posted the letter on several internal web sites.

September 20, 2010

Mr. Olislaeger,

Iíd like to take this opportunity to respond to your letter of July 15, 2010 and to your latest e-mail messages.

Rereading your letter, I realize that we share many of the same goals as you have outlined, and we have much in common. It is very much in the U.S. Governmentís interests to have an on-going dialogue with LE Staff to retain a trusting relationship and promote mutual understanding.

As I noted in my response to IFSA on June 18, to assure personal and post specific dialogue, the Director General and her entire senior management team make a point of meeting with LE Staff at every stop in their travel s abroad. In fact, the Director General is currently in Africa where she is meeting with LE Staff at five missions. Colleagues from the Office of Overseas Employment (OE) also visited over a dozen countries this past year including six in the Middle East to learn of the unique circumstances of LE Staff in that part of the world. In the next year OE is planning to visit an additional two dozen posts, working in partnership with regional bureaus, to continue to address LE Staff areas of interest.

I am pleased to report we will also soon begin to communicate the Departmentís efforts to modernize the LE Staff compensation analysis following an extensive review of the Departmentís practices by a leading international consultant. Planned refinements will be communicated through post visits, and by using multimedia methods such as webinars, DVCs and teleconferencing to explain the LE Staff compensation process. As a result of efforts this past year, HR/OE and the HR Bureau have addressed all formal HR assigned recommendations relating to LE Staff compensation in the 2009 Report by the Congressional managed Office of the Inspector General. While these were recommendations, and not mandates by the Office of Inspector General, we certainly worked to address issues raised in this report. Much more will be communicated in FY 11 including new compensation data collection and analysis software applications, the planned use of additional sources of labor market wage information, and several other enhancements in implementation stages.

In addition, we are developing support tools specific to LE Staff needs including the recent release of a stress management handbook, the planned release of a new inter-agency post awards program, and guidance for managing harassment in the workplace.

I might add in response to your most recent email that diplomatic missions, as you know, are unique in nature. Embassies and consulates work under very different laws and circumstances than the private sector firms we compete with for qualified labor. They must abide by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. As a result, governance of our missions complies with these worldwide tenants ñ which are applicable to the diplomatic missions of every nation in the world. It was based on this international Convention that a recent law suit to allow embassy employees to unionize was denied, and found in the favor of the diplomatic mission, and against the unions bringing the lawsuit.

Similarly, Chief of Mission authority, based on U.S. congressional law and annual instructions from the U.S. President, gives the Chief of Mission ìfull responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all U.S. Government executive branch employeesî including Foreign Nationals. These are historic and long-standing principals of international diplomacy. This is also why a previous OIG recommendation to create an Ombudsman for LE Staff was determined to be in violation of Chief of Mission authority.

LE Staff issues are as varied as their nationalities. In some parts of the world, flexible work schedules and opportunities for training are of prime importance. In other regions, it is the quality of health care services available locally. As noted in State Magazine, the Department marshaled special support to Haiti LE Staff following the devastating earthquake. In response to the Haiti crisis and other post circumstances this past year, the Director General recently delegated approval to posts to extend two specific LE Staff benefits to missions overseas which we will explain in a future cable from the Director General. These enhancements include provisions to extend medical coverage to dependents included in post medical plans in the event of an employeeís death; and allowing 26 pay periods to use compensatory time earned, which will become effective in March 2011 when Charleston payroll systems are modified to accommodate this change.

Another important issue we hear through our dialogue with LE Staff from some quarters is the need for an alternative retirement plan where locally-provided plans are deemed inadequate or not viable. In State 84193 last month, the DG updated everyone on our continuing progress and reaffirmed our commitment to provide a secure end of service benefit to our LE Staff.

In closing, we appreciated your suggestion of inviting LE Staff leadership from various regions to Washington. While the U.S. Government is facing serious budget challenges and we expect very lean budget for the next two years, in the spirit of dialogue and opportunity, we recently submitted a proposal to the Board of the Cox Foundation for consideration to funding a leadership and empowerment workshop in multiple locations for Foreign Service nationals (FSNs) and other locally employed (LE) staff worldwide. In addition to addressing some of the areas of mutual interest you have outlined in emails, we hope to promote sharing of best practices, prepare LE Staff for career satisfaction, discuss FSN Associations, and other goals to compliment growth in U.S. representation and LE staff contributions and skills in an environment of stringent resources and security. If our proposal for funding is approved by the Cox Foundation, you will hear more in FY 2011.

We look forward to the challenging time ahead and to continuing our dialogue and partnership with our LE Staff colleagues worldwide on issues of mutual importance.

Sincerely,

J. Robert Manzanares
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Office of the Director General

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