Celebrating 50 years of union
October 29, 2008
The pages of the scrapbook have yellowed. Fifty years have passed since some members of the then Army Ordnance Missile Command took a step which became a giant leap for their work force successors at Redstone Arsenal.
On Oct. 1, 1958, the local affiliate of the American Federation of Government Employees was born.
Thirty people became charter members of what was then Lodge 1858 of the AFGE union. Glenn Test is believed to have been the first president. Another charter member, Dennis Garrison, became the third president and went on to serve as the national president of AFGE, which was organized in the 1930s. Thomas Childers was the longtime treasurer.
A 50th anniversary celebration was planned for Nov. 13 at the Holiday Inn Research Park, near Madison Square Mall.
"Everybody's invited," AFGE Local 1858 president Don Eiermann said. "This is a tribute to what we have as a result of their actions. And it says a lot about us. We started in a garage (50 years ago) and what we have is a nice organization now."
Because the fledgling local didn't have an office, the members met in an employee's garage. They didn't have payroll deduction for membership dues, so they used cards and put a check mark to indicate who had paid.
"Geez, we've come a long way," Eiermann said.
Of course it's not the oldest local. AFGE Local 738 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., turned 66 years old this year, for example. Local 738 president Audrey Harris plans to attend the Redstone group's 50th celebration.
"We started out with two bargaining units (50 years ago)," Eiermann said. "Now we have 18 bargaining units that we represent on post. We'll have 20 because of the standup of the AMCOM Contracting Center which is a subsidiary of the new Army Contracting Command."
Local 1858 filed Oct. 20 for clarification with the Federal Labor Relations Authority and it hopes to soon establish bargaining units for the professional and nonprofessional contracting employees.
Vicki Fuller, AFGE Local 1858 labor relations officer, said the union represents both professional and nonprofessional employees from GS-1 through GS-15 or their equivalent in the various bargaining units. This entails about 9,800 people.
"I think it's much more organized (than 50 years ago)," she said. "I think we've gotten more sophisticated in knowing how to fight for issues for the federal employees. We've become more knowledgeable about the federal laws. We lobby for federal employees' rights, for their benefits."
The local has negotiated many benefits for Redstone employees since its inception. These include alternative work schedules, performance appraisal system, the promotion selection process, and the grievance and appeals process with a third-party review (arbitration) option.
"We're in the process right now of negotiating a new tele-work option for all employees under AMCOM," Eiermann said.
Through the years, the union has evolved as its work force has changed. What was primarily a blue-collar environment has become today's mostly white-collar population.
"As a result of that transition the focus on the issues and the areas of concern have changed," Eiermann said. "The focus of the local has changed and adapted to meet the needs of employees."
The union's two longtime staff members are Fuller and administrative assistant Mae Nell Perkins. Fuller became the union's secretary more than 25 years ago, when hired by then president Everett Brouillette. She served as secretary about 10 years and then became the local business agent and subsequently the labor relations officer. She earned her bachelor's degree in 1986 and her law degree in May 2003.
"I learned by trial and error," Fuller said of representing employees. "I learned by experience. I never will forget that first case."
Eiermann joined the union in 1998, started getting into representation in 2000, was elected the executive officer in 2001 and was elected president in 2003. He is an equipment specialist in the Aviation and Missile Command's Integrated Materiel Management Center, assigned to the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space.
As evidence of the union's cooperative working relationship with the Garrison and AMCOM, he pointed out that the local received about $30,000 apiece from these two entities at the end of fiscal 2008. These monies will be used at the union's building 3202 on Mauler Road to purchase new furniture, a new computer and a new video-teleconferencing system.
"In the future we plan to continue striving to effectively represent folks here at Redstone Arsenal," Eiermann said. "And we plan to grow our local by educating people that we're here and employees have a right and ability to affect working conditions through their participation in our local. We intend to keep doing what we're doing and that is to maintain effective representation for the people out here.
"I think it's a great testament to the folks out here that we have maintained this organization for 50 years. And I hope in all sincerity that we're able to celebrate another 50 years."