CEO of the 21st Century Partnership, Retired General Bob McMahon, calls the relationship between base management and the local union the number one threat to Robins Air Force Base.
He said at a meeting with community leaders at the Museum of Aviation Thursday, that the two parties need to work out their issues. He said if they cannot, the consequences for RAFB could be dire during the next round of base closures, or BRAC.
McMahon says BRAC could happen in 2015, 2017 or both.
He said that the problems have existed for years, with little improvement.
McMahon was careful to place blame on both sides, saying a small group of individuals on base and with the union are putting their personal agendas, before the well-being of the base and the community.
He said the two parties have worked together successfully in the past. He used the example of OSHA violations found in one Robins building several years ago. He said base leadership and union members worked together to improve conditions for workers.
McMahon said the overall condition of the relationship between base management and the union can be measured by the number of grievances filed at Robins.
He compared Robins' numbers with the other two Air Logistics Centers in the US.
Robins had more than twice as many as Hill last year and three times more than Tinker Air Force Base.
Robins workers filed 328 grievances in 2012, compared to 142 at Hill and 110 at Tinker.
So far this year, he says, there have been 204 at Robins, 57 at Hill and 42 at Tinker.
McMahon explained the discrepancy: :There is a better relationship between the base management and union there, than there is here. So, there is an ability to resolve the issues at a lower level, more effectively than perhaps were doing here at Robins. That's really a part of this. We have developed over the years a culture, that for whatever reason, isn't allowing us to do that to the level we need to. We have got to figure out how we can do this more effectively at the lowest possible level."
He said Robins' volume of grievances compared with the other ALC's, could be a deciding factor for a BRAC commission. He said the poor relationship between Kelly Air Force base management (San Antonio, Texas) and the union lead to its closure in a 1995 round of BRAC.
McMahon said there are better ways of handling issues or grievances that do not hurt the entire base. He said every employee needs to understand the importance of the issue and how it could harm Robins during BRAC.
He said the small groups of people that are causing the issues on both sides need to "change their behavior or go work somewhere else."
McMahon referred to employees that file repeated grievances as "frequent filers." He said, "This isn't Burger King. You can't have it your way."
Robins employs about 15,000 civilian workers.
According to Tom Scott, President of the local union, they have about 4,000 members.
Reached by phone, Scott said he agrees with McMahon that, "It's a number we need to get down."
He said he meets with Installation Commander Colonel Mitchel Butikofer and Air Logistics Center Commander General Cedric George once a week.
Scott said he held those same meetings with McMahon during his tenure as Commander at Robins Air Force Base. Scott said, "Those numbers were up when he was in charge, too."
Scott said that base leadership needs to look at the root cause of the grievances, or "hot spots." He said that the top drivers of complaints filed at Robins are about employee appraisals and overtime.
He said that there are a few employees that file repeated complaints, but the vast majority are from different employees.
Scott said the process of filing grievances is the same at Robins, as at Tinker and Hill. Asked about why those ALC's reported fewer grievances, he said it's possible that the employee and supervisor are resolving issues before they become formal grievances.
Scott said he thinks that the number of grievances is one factor that would be looked at by a BRAC commission, but other issues such as encroachment, and the quality of work being done would be more important.
He also said grievances are just one avenue for filing complaints at Robins. Scott said those other avenues, such as EEO or merit system issues, needed to be evaluated, as well.
Colonel Mitchel Butikofer issued a statement on the topic. It says, "Organizations always have room for improvement and we are committed to working with our labor representatives to sustain Robins AFB as a world class provider of readiness. Our partnership with our union is vital to the success of our diverse national defense missions. Improving the lines of communication and cooperation with labor is an area where we can and must do better. We need a strong partnership based on trust and confidence. We welcome any
opportunities to improve our partnership with the union so that we can continue to provide the cost-effective readiness our nation needs. Our workforce, and the warfighters we support across the United States and around the world, deserve nothing less."