EDITORIAL: Time for base union members to pay attention

March 9, 2014 

There is an election coming up. No, not the primary elections in May where state House and Senate members will be selected and move on to the General Election. It’s not the U.S. Senate and House races. While those elections are important, the ballot on March 18 could have deeper immediate ramifications than any of the other elections combined.

It is actually a do over. Local 987 of the American Federation of Government Employees voted to install union leadership on Oct. 15, 2013. A new slate, led by President Robert Tidwell, was elected to replace Tom Scott and his administration. Labor relations at Robins Air Force Base have long been contentious. Robins had more employee grievances than its competing bases in Oklahoma City and Ogden, Utah, combined. Union members decided a change was necessary.

After losing, the old guard charged that there were 39 election irregularities and filed a protest with the AFGE 5th District office. The national vice president for AFGE District 5, Everett Kelley, in a letter dated Nov. 26, 2013, said 38 of the issues were not violations. However, seven ballots were found in the trash that demonstrated to Kelley “a lack of proper security measures.” Even though the preferred provider for election services, True Ballot, explained its procedure, it could not explain where the seven ballots came from. Even though that number of ballots would not have impacted the election, a new polling was ordered. That decision was appealed but denied.

AFGE members should be very concerned and return to the ballot box March 18. While not an audit, the accounting firm of Clifton, Lipford, Hardison & Parker LLC raised a number of issues about how $266,888 in union funds were spent from Jan. 1, 2011, through Nov. 5, 2013. The local didn’t have policies or guidelines delineating who was authorized to use union credit cards, circumstances of use or a policy that required documentation of expenditures. Also, there were no approved board minutes during that period.

The report has more, but we have limited space. There also have been some sordid situations since the election -- shredded records, vandalism and instances where law enforcement had to get involved. The union office was pilfered of a cellphone and digital camera, and there was a bizarre scene involving Wilbert Ray Wessels. He was found hiding in a union office closet eavesdropping on a meeting he was not authorized to attend. President Tidwell’s wife’s car was vandalized at their home. Someone poured tobacco juice on the exterior of the vehicle. Tidwell also reported receiving death threats.

The question union members have to ask themselves during this very critical time in the base’s history: What kind of union leadership do you want? The challenges are great -- on-time performance, BRAC, additional or fewer missions. It’s time union members paid attention. You can bet Air Force leadership at the highest levels is watching.

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