Chief of U.S. Derivatives Overseer Won’t Stand in Way of Union

Workers at the U.S. agency that polices the swaps market won’t run into resistance from their boss if they try to join a union as they agitate for higher pay and benefits.

Mark P. Wetjen, acting chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, told reporters after a congressional budget hearing yesterday that he was aware of the employees’ discussions with the National Treasury Employees Union. The group represents workers at most of the other financial regulators in Washington.

“Look, I’m for worker rights,” Wetjen, a Democratic appointee, said. “If they feel like they need to organize and they demonstrate good reasons for it, I’m not going to begrudge them for it.”

CFTC employees held a second meeting with the union earlier this week, at a bagel shop around the corner from the agency. Last month, the NTEU held an initial recruitment lunch for non-management employees at the Black Rooster Pub, a local bar. The union represents 150,000 workers at 31 federal agencies.

The CFTC was created 40 years ago to monitor trading in the futures market, which mainly consisted of agricultural commodities. In 2010, the agency was given responsibility for overseeing the $710 trillion swaps market by the Dodd-Frank Act.

While the CFTC’s duties have expanded, its $215 million budget has grown little over the past few years. To cut costs, the agency required workers to take some 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 U.S. employees received at the beginning of the year.

Wetjen, who was confirmed in 2011 as a CFTC commissioner, has been acting chairman while the White House awaits Senate confirmation of Treasury Department official Timothy Massad, its nominee for the permanent job.

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