WASHINGTON -- As soon as a federal judge ruled that the National Treasury Employees Union staffers may pass out leaflets at Social Security Administration headquarters in Woodlawn, the union applied for a permit to distribute leaflets there.
The General Services Administration, which manages federal buildings, and SSA have 10 days to respond.
U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Greene's Friday decision goes into effect despite the appeal, so the union could be passing out leaflets in Woodlawn by early August.
NTEU hopes to become the exclusive representative of the 8,000 SSA employees at Woodlawn now represented by the American Federation of Government Employees.
SSA, the defendant, has not decided whether to appeal, said agency spokeswoman Michelle Bryski.
AFGE, which was not sued but which stepped into the case voluntarily on the side of SSA, "absolutely" will appeal, said spokeswoman Jeanette Abrahms. "We believe this sets labor relations back quite a few years," Ms. Abrahms said.
The Federal Labor Relations Authority had ruled against NTEU twice in recent months, saying federal law forbids professional staff of a raiding union from handing out leaflets at an agency where another union has exclusive representation. (The law does allow employees at the facility to hand out leaflets on behalf of a rival union.)
Judge Greene said NTEU's free speech rights take precedent over the labor law because sidewalks at Woodlawn are public. She explained this determination by saying the complex is bordered by busy streets, it has no fences and entrances are unguarded. Also, Maryland Transit Administration buses stop on the grounds. Finally, SSA and the GSA have allowed other groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to pass out information there.
Citing a 1983 Supreme Court decision, the judge wrote, "A public employer may not exclude a union from property that constitutes a public forum merely because another union is the incumbent."
Next week, about 85 federal workplaces will experience what could become a "wave of the future" -- an employee training program distributed by satellite feed in which viewers in different states can participate by telephone or fax.
Such training will save the government millions of dollars in travel costs, travel time, hotels, and other expenses associated with regular training programs, said the Office of Personnel Management.
The first session, produced by OPM's regional training center in Dallas, will be broadcast primarily in Southwestern states and at State Department headquarters in Washington. But "if this goes well, I'm sure it will be a wave of the future," said Mary Ann Maloney, a spokeswoman for OPM.
Some local and state government officials also will watch the session from hotels, colleges, or other facilities equipped with an in-house satellite dish.
OPM offers 125 training courses, and many of the most popular ones can be adapted for satellite broadcast, according to the agency. The topic of the first program is preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Tips for the Russians
While some Americans may take a dim view of how their government works, others in the world would be happy to be dealing with our federal bureaucracy.
For two weeks in July and August, the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan are playing host to a visiting delegation of U.S. government lawyers, officials and legal experts who are teaching them about such topics as federalism, regulation-writing and dispute resolution.
The former Soviet republics are starting from the ground up, said Mike Campiglia, assistant executive director of the Federal Bar Association, sponsor of the trip. "Under the old communist structure, our whole due process administrative structure existed in only the most rudimentary form," he said.
The eight visitors went armed with copies of the Federal Register "just to show people how rules are promulgated and staffed and eventually adopted," said Mr. Campiglia.
The delegation includes U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr, a federal administrative law judge, a Columbia University law professor, and several private attorneys.
Officials from Russia and Kazakhstan later may spend some time in the United States.