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Tenn. Valley Authority Union Joins Larger Engineers Federation

Alyssa Rosenberg | Government Executive

November 12, 2009

An independent engineers union at the Tennessee Valley Authority voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to affiliate with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

The Engineering Association, which represents scientists, engineers, technicians and other white-collar workers at TVA, voted 856 to 88 in favor of joining IFPTE. The association approached IFPTE after an internal deliberation about whether to join a larger union, and Chris Langford, an IFPTE organizer, said officials from the federation visited all of TVA’s facilities to make the case for affiliation. IFPTE already represents nuclear, hydroelectric and fossil-fuel plants in Canada, making it a good fit for the Engineering Association, said Paul Shearon, IFPTE’s secretary-treasurer.

Shearon said IFPTE would work with TVA to address issues the authority faces in Congress, as long as the authority was willing to work productively with the union on employee concerns.

“We know, for sure, that TVA is going to be heading to Capitol Hill because they’re going to need their debt ceiling expanded,” Shearon said. A debt ceiling increase would allow the authority to borrow money to build new power plants. “They have problems, including numerous lawsuits on their hands, and we can assist them in getting that kind of legislative work done. On the other hand, there are issues the employees need to have work done on.”

Among those issues is the legal status of the Engineering Association. The union does not fall under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act or the Federal Labor Relations Act because the union and the authority jointly asked that they be excluded from those pieces of legislation due to their strong, pre-existing relationship. That relationship has since soured, Shearon said, and like the Transportation Security Administration, TVA management retains the right to decide if its employees can form a union.

One factor in the Engineering Association’s decision to affiliate with a larger union was the desire to work with Congress to guarantee a right to organize, according to Shearon. The union already had met with Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., who co-chairs the TVA Caucus, and IFPTE plans to bring Engineering Association members to Washington to speak with the House and Senate federal workforce subcommittees, said Shearon. A TVA spokesman declined to comment on the affiliation vote, saying it was an internal Engineering Association matter.

The Tuesday vote is the second time a new local union has voted to join or form under IFPTE this year. IFPTE also won a campaign in September to organize workers at the Legal Services Corporation.

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