MOAB, Utah - Citing frustration with their agency's treatment of natural resources and employees, Bureau of Land Management staffers in two agency offices here voted to unionize. In response, Moab District BLM managers filed an objection to the Dec. 20 election with the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
The labor tension is the latest controversy for the Moab District, home to one of Utah's most popular sections of public lands. BLM officials in Moab have endured criticism from ranchers, environmentalists, mountain bikers, county commissioners and even Hollywood movie producers over land-use decisions in southeast Utah's redrock canyon country.
Several employees say they grew tired of management's "fiefdom" attitude in the Moab District and filed a petition seeking a unionization vote with the Federal Labor Relations Authority on Oct. 8, 1993.
"Management in Moab District doesn't listen to anyone - the public, the state director, even judges," said one district employee who asked for anonymity. "They think they are lord over their subjects, so we tried to find a bigger stick to hit them upside the head with."
Mail-in ballots distributed in December asked 51 eligible non-management employees if they wanted the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) to act as their bargaining agent with Moab District management. Uncertified results showed 27 voting yes, nine no and 15 ballots not returned.
NFFE representative Rick Snow said his union is preparing several charges of unfair labor practices.
"The morning after the ballots were counted, managers announced several new policies," Snow said. Work breaks were trimmed to 15 minutes and employees could no longer leave the building during their breaks. "It's gotten to the point where employees have been told they are not allowed to say anything but "Good morning" to other employees while they are at work," Snow added.
Moab District Manager Roger Zortman would only say that "there's a lot more to this than I can talk about."
Two other BLM districts in Utah have unions - Cedar City and Richfield - and some employees in those districts have benefits such as exercise periods that Moab District staffers do not get.
Union representative Snow said Moab District managers have only themselves to blame for the strained relationship with employees.
"To get so many people to petition on their own for a union vote in a small southern Utah town, and to have such an overwhelming majority vote in support of the union - that tells you there are big problems with management," he said.