U.S. renews court battle over speech incomeWASHINGTON...


June 24, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON ALL WINNERS: — U.S. renews court battle over speech income

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department is continuing its legal battle to prevent federal workers from earning income from outside speaking and writing engagements.

Federal workers thought victory was at hand in March when U.S. District Court Judge Robert Penfield Jackson ruled that the congressionally mandated ban on honorariums violates First Amendment rights to free speech.

But Judge Jackson left the ban in effect for a 90-day period, during which the Justice Department could appeal the case.

Last week, on the last day of the deadline, the Justice Department filed a protective notice with the U.S. Court of Appeals stating that it intends to appeal. During the next two weeks, the court will begin setting dates for oral arguments, said Diane Witiak of the American Federation of Government Employees. AFGE is a plaintiff in the case.

If the department follows through on the appeal, a decision may be reached by the beginning of the year, although it could take more or less time, Ms. Witiak said.

A quicker resolution could come if Congress passes a bill reinstating the right to receive honorariums.

The Office of Personnel Management and the American Federation of Government Employees put aside their traditional adversarial relationship in reaching a recent agreement that both described as "win-win."

"This contract is the result of a new way of doing business in the federal government," AFGE president John Sturdivant said in a press release. "By using a productive, non-confrontational approach to bargaining, local union leaders and OPM have reversed the destructive process used in past negotiations."

The agreement, which covers the 2,000 employees of OPM's central office, includes a new alternative dispute resolution plan. Employees who have been fired, demoted or suspended can take their complaint before an in-house labor-management committee rather than going directly to the Merit Systems Protection Board or an arbitrator.

The committee would consist of three union members and three OPM managers.

The agreement also allows OPM employees to work longer days in order to accrue one day off every two weeks.

Recruiting blacks:

Leaders from the U.S.'s 117 historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) have teamed up with federal agencies to figure out how to improve federal recruiting of graduates from HBCU schools.

At a meeting last week at the Office of Personnel Management, members of the HBCU executive committee on recruitment discussed the results of a student survey on why the government is not a more attractive employer.

Students complained that the starting-level salary is too low, the application process is confusing and discouraging, few federal agencies visit HBCU campuses, and the information on job opportunities is inadequate.

The committee also found that there is a lack of cooperation and communication between federal agencies and educational institutions. It has developed a plan that includes expanding summer job opportunities, internships and semester programs to get students interested in and familiar with government work.

Cutting back:

The president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which has ringingly endorsed Bill Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, is treading carefully following Mr. Clinton's announcement that he would like to cut the federal work force by 100,000 people over eight years.

Just a few days after endorsing Mr. Clinton's "long-standing record of sensitivity and accomplishment on behalf of government employees," AFGE President John Sturdivant wrote the Arkansas governor a letter expressing concern over his proposal to downsize through attrition.

Mr. Sturdivant reminded Mr. Clinton that the governor's emphasis on government responsiveness to taxpayers' needs "was the basis of my personal endorsement of your candidacy," and that Mr. Clinton's "consistent respect for public employees throughout your career led AFGE to its recent institutional endorsement."

The union president agreed government can be "leaner and meaner," but encouraged Mr. Clinton to cut from the managerial ranks, noting there is one manager for every five federal employees.

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