The former top general at Robins Air Force Base scolded both union leaders and base management Thursday during a blistering public appearance in which he warned that labor disputes could put the base at risk of closure.
Speaking to a gathering of various community leaders in Warner Robins, recently-retired Gen. Bob McMahon presented a chart showing that civilian workers at Robins have filed about four times as many grievances through their union in FY 2013 than employees at comparable bases.
"There is a small number of individuals from both sides of this issue, management and the union, whose personal agendas are of greater importance to them than the health and well-being of our base and our community," McMahon said.
McMahon now heads the nonprofit 21st Century Partnership, which works to protect the base from closure. Even before the federal budget cuts known as "sequestration," the Pentagon sent signals that military bases around the world will soon face the possibility of closure, it's only a question of which.
Citing historical example, McMahon said the labor strife at Robins could count against the base if and when Washington convenes a Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) as expected in 2015.
"Kelly Air For Base in San Antonio, Texas, was notorious for the poor relationship between the union and management throughout the 1980s and early 1990s," McMahon said. "I can tell you from first-hand experience, because I was in the room, that that poor relationship was a factor in the Air Force putting Kelly on the closure list."
McMahon also raised the possibility that the number of grievances may soon skyrocket as workers complain about furloughs related to sequestration.
Reached for comment, American Federation of Government Employees Local 987 President Tom Scott said the problem at Robins is not the number of grievances being filed, but the root causes behind them; namely, he said, unfair allocation of overtime and the process by which employees are evaluated, known as "appraisal."
"If the supervisor is explaining the process about the employee's efficiency through the appraisal process throughout the year, there shouldn't be any surprise what rating you should receive," Scott said.
On the management side, Robins Installation Commander Col. Mitchel Butikofer said in a written statement, "Improving the lines of communication and cooperation with labor is an area where we can and must do better."