Throughout my campaign for NTEU National President, I have promised to appoint a National Office ombudsman whose sole responsibility will be to assist the National President in following up on issues raised by Chapter Leaders. The question arises, “How exactly would that work?”
As I have pointed out time and time again, “top down” leadership that depends on one or two people to keep their focus on all of the issues facing NTEU—an organization that represents so many diverse federal agencies and chapters—is unworkable. That is the system that we have now, and inevitably, it has resulted in many issues falling between the cracks. Often, entire agencies have felt left behind as the National Office has concentrated on agencies with larger populations.
Let me make it clear. An ombudsman is not a substitute for a fully-engaged National President who is dedicated to the mission of our union. Our President must be committed to outreach, to listening and learning from the Chapter Leaders that best know the concerns of rank and file members. I have that dedication and that commitment, and you can depend on me to answer your calls and to keep my promises.
The ombudsman will be the designated holder of the to-do list. Promises that have been made, issues that need follow-up, questions that beg to be answered: What is the status of each of these commitments? The ombudsman will report directly to the National President, and will be a constant reminder of promises made. Also, the ombudsman will take calls directly from Chapter Leaders who have an emergency situation at their site, whenever expertise and support is needed, and when the Chapter affected believes that the Field Office is slow to act. (As I have said many times, the occasions when a Field Office is slow to act will be fewer when I am President. Count on it.)
Who would the ombudsman be? No decision has been made yet, but it might be someone currently on the NTEU staff, or it might be someone new. The characteristics of the individual, however, would include the ability to understand and accurately communicate to others issues from a wide range of agencies; the talent to recognize the essence of the issue and the importance to the employees that we represent; and a commitment to the Chapter Leaders and their concerns.
Will the role of ombudsman be necessary, even if we all agree that the person we choose in August to be our National President is a hands-on leader, 100% committed to the interests of our members, with eyes on the mission of our union, 24/7? Yes. In every organization, it is important to go beyond personalities and create institutional safeguards that insure that the job gets done, even if those at the top get distracted, or their priorities get skewed, or perhaps they demonstrate that they are merely human and cannot be everywhere at once. The mistake is in pretending that any one person can adequately do the job alone. So far, no one has. – Eddie Walker, June 14