Today marks the 31st anniversary of the signing of the NCFLL-DOL Joint Statement of Purpose, creating the partnership for the Employee Involvement and Quality Improvement initiative. I was the union representative, having explored and advocated quality and process improvement with Bernie Shain starting in the late 1970s. I still have a box of information Betnie and I were able to obtain about the few early efforts in government (which we got thanks to FTS- “free telephone service” enabling us to call all over the country).
On this day in 1990, in a room at the Perkins Building, Secretary Dole, NCFLL President Rios, AFGE President John Sturdivant, Jim Armshaw and I, and some DOL officials, heard the Secretary proclaim that “our employees are our greatest asset.”
We had worked for a year preparing for this day. We learned about self-organizing and self-managing teams. I figured out how EIQI would fit into the Contract. We stripped agency steering committees down to their bate minimum of two people kut of necessity- not knowing this had not been done anywhere before.
In six months, we had over 220 EIQI teams working around the country. In three years, Wage and Hour’s San Francisco region won a Federal Quality Improvement Orototype Award- the second-highest award in the Federal sector.
A few things you might not know or remember-
Doris Wooten had rejected Bernie’s and my TQM proposals for years.
What made me the choice of the NCFLL to work on a DOL TQM initiative happened by happy accident. At an RA meeting, Doris was talking to OSHA RA Jim Stanley. Doris said she had a bad relationship with me and the Local. She noted the positive relationship I had with Jim, and asked his advice on improving things with me and the Union. Jim said “have you ever done anything nice for Bruce?” (Knowing full well how she was, and what the answer was). Doris replied “what do you mean?” Jim said, “well… have you ever invited Bruce to any of your management meetings to talk with your DDs and ADDs?” (Again, knowing the answer). Jim explained how he had invited me to an OSHA meeting in Saratoga and had me speak with them about LMR. Jim asked if there was anything Doris could do for me. She thought a moment and said she had invites to the Federal Quality conference. She knew my interest over the years. So in May 1989 I went to the conference. I came back fully convinced this was the way forward for Wage and Hour, DOL, and the NCFLL.
On the Union side, EIQI almost didn’t happen. At an NCFLL meeting in Summer 1990, two leaders, Richard Coon and Jim Weyrauch, spoke against it. Both were controlling types, and they expressed their fear that such collaboration would undetmine Unuon power. But… AFGE president John Sturdivant was in the room. He stood up in the back as Weyrauch finished. John beamed as he said “brothers and sisters, I have seen the future of our union, and it is EIQI!”
Secretary Dole was under pressure from the White House to get a TQM initiative started. She approached the NCFLL about hearing some TQM experts present about it. Over dinner in DC, the Council talked first about the Union’s upcoming major anniversary (25th?) and how we could get union leaders around the country together to celebrate. Suddenly- an AHA moment. WHAT IF…. we told Secretary Dole to bring every upper management person and every union leader from around the country to DC to hear the TQM presenters for a day. AND THEN… we gave our celebration dinner that night. All travel on DOL! Well… it worked!
Although the work I was doing was easily at the GS-15 level, I worked as a GS-12 in behalf of the Union. After EIQI earned the Prototype Award, Jim Armshaw suggested to his boss, OASAM A/Sec Tom Komarek, that I be put in for an award. Once approved, I was to get a $5,000 award. But then… a story appeared on Page 6 of the Washington Post. The Federal page. The last place you wanted to appear. Komarek had been found to have written himself up for the top award as well… with a $25,000 award. Well… he was soon out. No award to him. And, unfortunately, my award went down the hole with him.
The end of EIQI and the Federal Quality Movement is another story. How it gave way to Reinventing Government is a little-known story with its own remarkable coincidences that brought the story to me. A story for another day.
Today, we have both the need and the opportunity to implement some Federal approach to improve effectiveness, efficiency, innovation, and public trust in government. I believe now what I believed in 1990- that empowering employees, collaborating and exploring possibilities, partnering with unions, and accountability for acting consistent with shared values, is the way to achieve these goals.
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