Is an NTEU membership detrimental to your career?

Just today, I heard an employee say that he will not join NTEU because union membership will be detrimental to his career. I completely disagree with this perception.

Only look back to see how far you've come
Only look back to see how far you’ve come

I joined NTEU the very moment it arrived to the Dallas District Laboratory. It was on my second year working for FDA, just off my probationary period as a new employee.

That first year was so tough that I seriously considered resigning and begging the State of Texas to give me my old job back. I had a fixed schedule, and my supervisor would have a leave request ready for me on my desk if I was one minute late. Of course, in those instances I had to take the minimum of 15 minutes of precious annual leave (you only got four hours of annual leave each pay period for the first several years) with no chance of making up the time at the end of the day (no credit time).

We were not allowed to place or receive personal phone calls on the office phones (which only supervisors had). This may not seem very significant now, but back then cell phones were an extravagance for the wealthy. This means that, if a loved one needed to reach you during office hours, they had to page you (if you had a beeper). You had to request leave (or wait until lunchtime or the end of the day) to walk to the payphone in the corner to call your loved one.

There were no whistleblowing protections, no awards, no credit hours, no compensatory time for travel, no flexible spending accounts, no telework, no say on changes in working conditions, no protection against arbitrary reassignments, reductions-in-force, or unfair firings. Collectively, we had no voice in Congress, no voice in the courts, no voice in the media, no grievance procedures or impartial arbitration hearings, and no protected political and legislative rights. Even worse, we had no idea any of these things were even a possibility!

So, I joined NTEU the moment it arrived. And my membership did not change the way management treated me. Yes, they have called me a troublemaker, but that has nothing to do with my NTEU membership (ask my mother). But I continued to perform my duties with the same passion and dedication to public health service as before.

I survived the closing of the Dallas District Laboratory, the surplus of management and program analysts in the Southwest Regional Office, and the elimination by attrition of the small business representative position. Throughout it all, I detailed in a wide variety of positions across FDA and continued to climb the GS scale. I only stopped climbing it because I prefer to remain a BUE.

Many of our members and representatives have moved on to be specialists, compliance officers, supervisors, national experts, district directors, and regional directors! Some of the managers are still non-BUE NTEU members today! Why? Because, although the CBA does not cover them, they know that NTEU defends and fights for employee pay and benefits, retirement benefits, and FDA funding with Congress and the Administration. They also know that any benefits NTEU wins for BUEs will also benefit them; for example, alternate work schedules, credit hours, compensatory time for travel, telework, flexible spending accounts, and protected political and legislative rights, just to name a few.

I decided to become a Union representative because I saw the need and felt that I could contribute. I decided to become the chapter president because no one else would. The way I see it, I can be part of the solution or part of the problem. There is nothing in between.

Senator John Cornyn (left) listening to Chapter President David Arvelo.
Senator John Cornyn (left) listening to Chapter President David Arvelo.

To become president of Chapter 254, I had to sacrifice my career. This position requires me to dedicate 100% official time to representational duties. In reality, I exceed 100% every week. And I do not get credit time, overtime pay, compensatory time, compensatory time for travel, or any other form of premium time for any excess. I don’t get a PMAP evaluation or any award. But I get the satisfaction of helping my fellow employees receive fair pay and benefits, and the FDA receive the resources it needs to carry out its mission to protect the American consumer.

So, you see? A Union membership is not detrimental to your career. Remaining a non-member, however, could adversely affect your pay and benefits, those of the entire bargaining unit, and may even be detrimental to the FDA. But think how much we could do if every employee joined!