Foreign Service Journal - November 2013 - page 7

n my initial courtesy calls on several
senior State Department officials, a
common theme went something like
this: “Why did you AFSA guys repre-
sent an individual in case x, when his
interests went against the common good
of your membership? How do you recon-
cile the roles of professional association
and labor union?”
These are serious questions, ones that
lead me to offer the following observa-
tions about our organization’s dual roles,
and about the dynamic between indi-
vidual rights and the collective good. On
a lighter note, I’ll end with a quiz about
the Foreign Service.
The easiest part of management’s
complaint to dismiss is the idea that
AFSA’s roles as professional association
and labor union are in conflict. As a
union, AFSA represents the interests of
the Foreign Service collective bargaining
unit, which is comprised of all FS mem-
bers except certain management offi-
cials. The bargaining unit also happens
to contain nearly all members of our
professional association. Many manage-
ment officials are AFSA members active
in the professional association.
Both the union and the association
share the same interests in ensuring that
assignment, promotion and
discipline systems are fair
and transparent, and comply
with the Foreign Affairs
Manual and U.S. law. Both are
interested in maintaining and
raising the Foreign Service’s
high standards of profession-
It may be unusual for one
organization to play both roles, but AFSA
is not unique. The Screen Actors Guild,
for example, is also both, though its award
ceremony is more elaborate than ours.
The National Education Association is
another example of a dual-hatted entity.
The harder part to dismiss is that of
a possible conflict of interest between
individual representation and the col-
lective good. For instance, management
alleges that AFSA filed and won a griev-
ance on behalf of individual members
undergoing a State Department inves-
tigative process, and these victories
prompted State to reconsider the process
intended to benefit a wider group of
Foreign Service members.
The other side of the story comes
from AFSA’s lawyers. They focus on the
due process rights of the individual, and
if it appears there has been an abuse or
failure to comply with existing rules, they
assist the member in seeking redress
through established forums, such as the
Foreign Service Grievance Board. But
that redress is limited to the correction of
individual problems, and is not intended
to overturn systems and processes that
benefit the collective Foreign Service.
Generally speaking, there should
not be a contradiction between the due
process rights of individuals
and the overall collective good.
My sincere hope is that manag-
ers perceive AFSA’s support
for individuals’ rights as one of
the checks and balances that,
along with the department’s
own internal reviews, ensures
systems designed for the collective good
work properly in practice. If an indi-
vidual grievance causes management to
rethink a policy or process, perhaps that
is a sign that it needs to be tweaked—
not done away with.
If a conflict of interest would arise
between AFSA’s obligations to the col-
lective bargaining unit or its members,
and an individual’s right of redress, AFSA
lawyers would refer the individual to
outside counsel. Luckily, our lawyers
and outside counsel have both assured
me that such situations are rare. But I
appreciate hearing of them.
And now for the quiz! Please reply to
me at the e-mail address below with your
answers. The first five respondents who
answer at least three of the questions
correctly will receive AFSA’s handsome,
industrial-size coffee mug.
• Name the author of the Long
Telegram who was also an editor of
Foreign Service Journal
in the 1940s.
• Which of the following is the closest
to the correct ratio in today’s Foreign Ser-
vice between generalists and specialists:
(a) 70/30 (b) 60/40 (c) 50/50 (d) 40/60?
• When the early American republic
eschewed granting the title of ambassa-
dor, because of its overtones of nobility,
chiefs of mission were given which title?
• Name the sitting U.S. senator whose
father was an AFSA president.
Answers will be in the December
. Until then, be well, stay safe and
keep in touch.
Due Process and the Collective Good
Robert J. Silverman is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.
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