DOD union boss aims to restore credibility
March 31, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Geoffry Lohsl just wanted to be National Federation of Federal Employees Local 1363 shop steward. Instead, they made him president.
Now all he has to do is talk another 160 people into paying dues, and he also might get managers to listen to him.
Lohsl got a letter last October saying he’d been elected the union’s interim president. “I didn’t hear about it, but I guess they said they elected me,” said the contracting officer for Contracting Command Korea.
He said he’s always been interested in unions but was prompted by CCK employees’ arrests and indictments last year.
The CCK commander, Col. Richard Moran, pleaded guilty Jan. 22 in federal court in Los Angeles to accepting $900,000 from South Korean companies in exchange for base contracts. His wife, Gina Cha Moran, also pleaded guilty to charges in the conspiracy. One other CCK employee — Ronald Adair Parrish, chief of the Contract Support Division — was charged with illegally influencing contracting bids.
Other employees, while not charged, felt the heat, Lohsl said.
“I figured a lot of people here were being accused of things,” he said. “Most of them were innocent, and most of them were hard-working people. You heard the joke: CCK stands for ‘Criminal Command Korea.’ We have to live it down. We’re having to do a better job than we normally do to try to gain the trust in our customers.”
The union, which has been in South Korea since the 1960s, represents all U.S. Defense Department civilian employees in that country regardless of whether they pay the $20 monthly dues, Lohsl said.
About 1,240 people are eligible, he said — but to date, the union has just 40 paying members.
That’s still a 65 percent increase over when Lohsl became president, he said. His goal is 200 paying members before he leaves South Korea in July.
“Management tells me when we get 200 members, they will take us more seriously,” Lohsl said.
After two years of off-and-on negotiations, a bargaining agreement was completed with U.S. Forces Korea and 8th Army in January, said Patrick Roach, union chief of staff.
“I would encourage everyone ... to get a copy of it,” said Roach, transportation officer for Camp Carroll. “A lot of people are amazed at what management can and cannot do.”
The union pushed for three hours of physical training time per week for civilians classified as essential in times of emergency, Roach said.
The military took the idea even further, letting all civilians take that time, he said.
The union is moving away from an old mindset of immediately filing grievances and confronting management, said Jim Irvin, vice president.
Instead, it’s trying to foster better relations — and managers already have recognized the change in attitude, he said.
“We are working hard to change management’s view of the union,” he said.
The government doesn’t allow a mandatory union shop. And government employees are forbidden from striking, Lohsl said.
As union president, he’s responsible for filing an employment grievance if a person experiences a problem with a manager.
Employees have a right to file a grievance without fear of retribution, Lohsl said.
But, Lohsl said, he won’t file a grievance unless he feels there are grounds for it. Many of the grievances he’s filed as president have revolved around performance evaluations, he said.
A grievance can’t be filed against opinion, Lohsl said, but can be filed if proper procedures weren’t followed.
“We’re not here to cause problems,” he said. “We’re here to ensure people are treated fairly. Most people don’t know how to go about filing a grievance and most don’t know they are allowed to.”
The first step in working a grievance — which must be filed 15 days from the time an event occurred — is contacting the employee’s immediate supervisor and then that supervisor’s supervisor, Lohsl said.
About 90 percent of the time, direct talks can solve the complaint, Lohsl said: “We have been relatively successful in resolving the problems.”
The government can appoint a representative to deal with the grievance, done through the civilian personnel office. If negotiations fail, Lohsl can file an unfair labor practice charge through the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which has offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
About 26 grievances are pending, Lohsl said. He is planning on filing two more unfair labor practice charges, both for what he characterized as retaliation after a grievance was filed.
Sometimes, the charge will be withdrawn if a resolution is reached, Lohsl said.
If not, the FLRA will send an arbiter, with the union and the government splitting the cost, he said, adding that as a condition of accepting arbitration, the parties must agree that the arbiter’s decision is final.
“I won’t do that unless I’m pretty sure I’m going to win,” Lohsl said.
For more information about Local 1363, call 768-8244.
Employees eligible for Local 1363 of the National Federation of
Covered: Career and nonconditional professional employees of the U.S. Army in South Korea.
Not covered: Nonprofessional employees, supervisors, management officials, employees engaged in personnel work in other than a purely clerical capacity, confidential employees, employees of the Joint United States Military Affairs Group, Nonappropriated Fund employees, U.S. Army Audit Agency employees, U.S. Army Logistics Assistance Office-Korea employees, Criminal Investigation Command employees and members of the 501st Military Intelligence Group.