Matz, McWatters Trade Oversight, Transparency Allegations
It may have been a peaceful negotiation, but the aftermath of the collective bargaining agreement between the NCUA and the National Treasury Employees Union has been anything but.
On Tuesday, CU Times reported the NCUA had signed a five-year agreement with the NTEU that would keep employee pay and benefits competitive with civilian financial service regulators.
After the agreement was signed, Board Member J. Mark McWatters said he had not been given a copy of the final agreement and called for a more transparent board.
In a statement to CU Times, he wrote, in part, “The NCUA board employed a professional staff to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement. The staff reported to the individual board members from time to time during the process. Receiving periodic, piecemeal briefings on the status of contractual negotiations hardly suffices for a formal, top-to-bottom presentation to the board of the entire contract followed by a vote to accept or reject the contract by the full board.”
Chairman Debbie Matz, whose term officially ended April 10 but will remain on the board until President Obama appoints a new chairman, responded to allegations by McWatters that the NCUA was excluding him from the negotiating process.
“As I’ve said before, it behooves Professor McWatters to step down from his ivory tower, come into the office for more than his typical three days per month and engage in our policy-making process,” Matz said. “Mr. McWatters had ample opportunity to raise any issues about the collective bargaining agreement during the briefings he received over the course of many months, but he chose not to. I look forward to the time when Mr. McWatters raises his concerns with the staff instead of through the press.”
McWatters, however, said his concerns with the chairman were not personal and he was only interested in regulating the credit union community in an objective, professional and transparent manner.
“In my 30-plus years of legal practice, I have negotiated many sophisticated contractual agreements,” he said. “One key lesson of negotiating is never to pass judgment on a contract based upon a snap-shot view of only a few provisions. To understand a contract, it's imperative to understand the entire agreement and the only way to do that is to have the professional negotiators — those who are involved in the day-to-day negotiations — present and analyze the entire contract top-to-bottom for the benefit of those charged with approving or rejecting the contract. That approach was not taken concerning the collective bargaining agreement. My briefings consisted of a series of snap-shots. There was no top-to-bottom briefing or analysis and no action by the board.”
Vice Chairman Rick Metsger said he did not share those same concerns.
“The collective bargaining negotiating process is lengthy, it requires give and take on both sides, and provisions are subject to change until the agreement is finalized,” he said. “Throughout the negotiating process, my staff and I were regularly provided updates by NCUA’s negotiators. There was full transparency with the board. All of my questions were answered, and I was provided all the information I requested. I was also asked for, and provided, my input on the negotiations, dating back since last year. I know other board members had the very same opportunity I did from (the) staff to weigh in. It is a good agreement which will control costs, and equally important, make those costs predictable for five years.”
According to the news release sent by the NCUA on Tuesday, the agreement included cost controls and pay caps and was hailed as a victory for both the organization and the employees. However, what the statement didn’t describe in detail was the pay raises, the additional monies allocated to employees relocating to Washington and a few other additional costly benefits.
A confidential document obtained by CU Times spelled out the list of negotiating terms that included removing pay freezes for NCUA employees even if pay freezes were directed by Congress or the President.
On Thursday. Matz defended the final agreement.
“This contract is a fair and balanced agreement that I was proud to sign,” she said. “When all of the changes are factored in, the new contract is projected to reduce future cost growth by over $17 million over the next five years, compared to continuing the terms of the prior agreement, while enhancing the workplace. It gives either NCUA or NTEU further flexibility to reopen negotiations, if warranted, on multiple articles after an initial 24-month period, as well. This agreement will help the agency contain costs and continue to attract and retain the qualified staff we need in a competitive jobs marketplace. As a result, NCUA will be able to fulfill our mission to maintain the safety and soundness of the credit union system.”
CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle previously said CUNA officials have consistently called for greater transparency in NCUA’s budget process.
“The credit union system, which funds almost all of NCUA’s activities, has no input into or influence over collective bargaining agreements; therefore, we expect that NCUA will negotiate a deal in the best interest of credit unions,” Nussle said.
NAFCU also weighed in, urging prudence and questioning the five-year agreement when previous agreements had been limited to three years.
“As we saw during the financial crisis, circumstances can easily change,” Carrie Hunt, senior vice president of Government Affairs and general counsel, said. “On its face, five years appears to be a long period relative to this type of agreement.”
Hunt said NAFCU would like to see a more transparent board.
“NAFCU supports fair compensation,” she said. “We think that the process is very important because, as NAFCU has said earlier, credit unions don’t have a voice or a role in the process and its credit union dollars which are funding the NCUA. We’ve consistently called for budget hearings and additional transparency because we think the more eyes that are on the process, the fairer it will ultimately be.”
As for the board, McWatters said it would appear Matz’s “material issue” is that he is too engaged in the regulatory and administrative activities of the agency, asks too many questions and that he dissents when he disagrees with an approach taken by the agency.
“Our differences are professional as we have different economic and regulatory philosophies,” he said. “I advocate for transparency and full accountability of NCUA's budgetary process and believe the agency should not regulate the credit union community as a group of too-big-to-fail financial institutions. The time has come for the chairman to institute a policy of inclusion and cooperation. It is the responsibility of the chairman to ensure such an environment exists.”