Thursday, October 04, 2007

This is interesting

Some Air Reservists Reject Uniform Rule:
The Air Force Reserve may be an unrivaled wingman to the active duty force, but it's also a conflicted one right now, with air reserve technicians angry over a new policy mandating daily uniform wear on the job.

And that's prompted some to increasingly talk like the union members many are.

Bristling at the new regs, some reservists intend to pressure the Air Force into scrubbing the new uniform policy - a demand that could have a ripple effect on Air Force missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Stop volunteering for Air Expeditionary Force rotations" is the call rebel Air Force reservists are making.

"We've got to do something to get their attention," said Master Sgt. Jerry Merrill, a KC-135 crew chief at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., and vice president of local 3854 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Calls to boycott AEFs have been posted in a handful of messages included in an online petition against the policy, and Merrill believes reserve Airmen could begin acting on them.

"We're obligated to do a certain amount" of deploying, he said, but the reserve techs "may be less cooperative with their free time. I would say everyone is behind the war on terror, but we can't be stomped on and have this thing rammed down our throats."
Sounds like some sort of mutiny, no? Here's where it gets interesting:

There are more than 8,000 enlisted Air Force Reserve technicians - civil service employees whose civilian job and reserve job essentially are the same - of which more than 6,600 are union members.

As a condition of employment, they serve as reserve Airmen. But except when they're doing their one-weekend-a-month or two-weeks-a-year of duty, or when they are called up or volunteer for active duty, they are civilians.

But the Reserve Command in April notified the union that a change was coming, that all reserve technicians would be required to wear the Air Force uniform whenever they're on the job. Several references to the need for good order and discipline in the original letter suggested to many reservists that the change was connected to discipline problems - a claim that Reserve Command chief Lt. Gen. John Bradley later denied.

Bradley has said the change reflects the professionalism of the Reserve Command and is in keeping with its continuing and expanding role as a full partner with the active duty Air Force.


Mark Gibson, a labor relations specialist for AFGE, could not agree more about the Reserve's importance to the overall mission, but he maintains the new policy threatens the force and the mission. It hurts the reserve technicians morale, could cause many who have long years of experience to leave, and could mean fewer techs volunteering to flesh out AEFs.

"This thing is blowing up in the Air Force Reserve's face and they're going to seriously damage that program," Gibson said. Boycotting AEFs, he said, is "a subject that a lot of Air Force Reservists don't want to be public about, but I know a lot have talked about it."

I've got to question why uniforms are such a big deal. It seems to me that this is the straw that broke the camel's back. And that points to a larger flaw in the system. If we step back and look at the big picture, why is the USAF party to a system that allows, in effect, for there to be unionized reservists? This is reminiscent of the problems (IIRC) the USAF ran into with the farming out of the maintenance of one of its training aircraft in the mid-'90s, where striking workers shut down the ability for one of the training squadrons to fly. (I couldn't actually find any information about the supposed strike, but it stands out in my memory. If someone has some information about the incident, feel free to let me know.)

This seems to me to be a case of trying to get things on the cheap and having them turn around and bite you in the ass. No one should be surprised that these workers are upset about having to wear the uniform or "volunteer" for AEF deployments. They are unionized workers first and airmen second. It's harsh, but there it is. It's not surprising in this era of downsizing budgets that the Air Force has tried to save a buck and now it's going to possibly cause huge problems with the AEF cycle, increasing the burden on everyone else and stressing an already over-stressed force.

This is what you get when you try to do things on the cheap. Secretary Wynne? CSAF Moseley? Congress?