Workers at the U.S. agency that polices the swaps market have taken the first formal step to join a union as they press for higher pay and benefits.
The National Treasury Employees Union filed a petition yesterday seeking to represent more than half the staff at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the union said in an e-mail. The petition leads to an official vote by agency employees to join the union, which already represents other financial regulators.
The development poses a challenge for new CFTC chief Timothy Massad who was sworn in last month. Morale has plummeted at the agency as worker pay has stagnated and the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act has increased their responsibilities.
“CFTC employees provide an important service in protecting the public from fraud, abusive practices and risks related to derivatives and NTEU looks forward to representing them,” Colleen Kelley, president of the NTEU, said in the statement confirming the filing with the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
CFTC spokesman Steven Adamske declined to comment.
The CFTC was created 40 years ago to monitor trading in the futures market, which mainly consisted of agricultural commodities. Dodd-Frank gave the agency responsibility for overseeing much of the $710 trillion market for swaps and derivatives.
While the CFTC’s jurisdiction has expanded, its $215 million budget has grown little. To cut costs, the agency required workers to take unpaid leave last year, a move that angered rank-and-file staff.
In January, the 700-person agency ran out of cash and had to arrange a deal with the Treasury Department just to keep its doors open, people familiar with the matter said at the time. It also was unable to immediately pay workers a 1 percent raise that other federal workers received at the beginning of the year.
Agency staff have also bristled at pay and benefits that have failed to keep pace with employees at other financial regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The NTEU said its petition covers about 370 employees working in the CFTC’s Washington headquarters and outposts in Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri. The Federal Labor Relations Authority will determine the details of the election, including when it will be held, the union said.
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