Federal Times Blogs

Unions blast plan to delay sequester by cutting feds

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Federal employee unions on Wednesday swiftly denounced a Republican plan to delay the steep budget cuts known as sequestration by cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and other GOP lawmakers proposed legislation that would put sequestration off by only allowing the federal government to hire one new employee for every three who leave. This would save about $85 billion, the same amount sequestration is supposed to cut for the rest of fiscal 2013.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, and the National Federation of Federal Employees lined up Wednesday afternoon to blast the idea. They all agreed that such cuts would be counterproductive and hamstring the government’s ability to perform crucial jobs like fight wildfires, protect food safety and guard the borders. And federal employees have already absorbed more than two years of frozen pay scales and increased pension contributions that contributed about $103 billion to deficit reduction.

AFGE National President J. David Cox called the bill “egregious legislation” that “would fatten defense contractor cronies while slashing federal jobs.” NTEU National President Colleen Kelley said cutting feds by 10 percent would be “foolhardy and would result in short staffing that could last for a decade.”

But NFFE National President William Dougan had the most colorful response:

Slashing the workforce to generate a year’s worth of savings is like cutting off your arm to lose weight for the prom.



NTEU: Public actually wants more gov’t spending, employees

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The National Treasury Employees Union is trying to push back against Republican efforts to convince the public to support policies that would cut back on federal employees and government services.

Central to NTEU’s plan is a new survey they commissioned and released today, which found the vast majority of respondents think the government should put more resources and manpower behind food, medical device and nuclear safety, as well as border security and veterans assistance.

“Some would have you believe the American people have this desire for austerity, but that’s not true,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a phone conference with reporters. “When the question [about cutting government spending and employees] is asked in a general way, the public may not think about what it means in their personal life. By putting a name to [the jobs that might be cut], they realize it would have a major negative impact.”

NTEU’s survey found more than three quarters of the 1,000 people surveyed think the wealthiest Americans “should pay their fair share towards deficit reduction and economic recovery,” and that two-thirds think the wealthy should be taxed more before cutting funding for public services like food and drug safety and border security.

NTEU also said most respondents had no idea that federal employees have already contributed $75 billion to deficit reduction over a decade through their two-year pay freeze and increased retirement contributions for future employees.

The union posted the survey results — conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs — on the They Work For U.S. site it launched to push back against misinformation about federal employees. Kelley said she is planning a series of radio and TV appearances to publicize the results of NTEU’s survey.


Cox, Bastani seeking to be AFGE’s next president

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American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage’s right-hand man and his leading rival in the last election will vie for control of the largest federal employee union this August.

Gage, who has run AFGE for nine years, announced yesterday that he will not run for a fourth term as president. The office of AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox, the union’s second-highest ranking officer, confirmed today that he will run for president in the union’s August election.

Alex Bastani, president of AFGE’s Local 12, which represents Labor Department employees, told Federal Times he also is running for president. Bastani took 45 percent of the vote against Gage in 2009. In a YouTube video posted during the last election, he criticized Gage for not fighting hard enough for pay parity with the military.

Public Service Recognition Week: Octavia Hall

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As an Army brat, Octavia Hall has always been around public service. She spent most of her life in Germany bouncing around several bases. Hall said it was both her family and her community who encouraged her to serve.

“When I went out to the bus stop, I remember the soldiers coming over to talk to us about going to school, getting a good education, asking about our career goals. They contributed a lot to my wanting to serve,” Hall said.

As military families do, Hall’s family moved again, this time to Maryland. In high school she was active in cheerleading and a singing-show group she compared to the hit show Glee.

When graduation approached, Hall wasn’t interested in military service, but she knew there was a place for her on the civilian side. After receiving her diploma from La Plata High School, she was hired as a resource adviser at Joint Base Andrews. Hall helped families with child-care needs, career development courses and dual military spouses dealing with deployments.

“It’s always been instilled in me to help others in need,” Hall said.

Hall’s job at Andrews led her to her current position as the president of  Local 1401 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Listen to Hall share her views on public service:

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AFGE’s Cox to receive Yitzhak Rabin award

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J. David Cox / Courtesy of AFGE

J. David Cox, the national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, on May 9 will receive the Yitzhak Rabin Public Service Award.

The American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center is giving Cox the award — which honors labor leaders and was named for the slain Israeli prime minister, labor minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner — to honor his years spent organizing federal employees at the Veterans Affairs Department and Transportation Security Administration. Cox said he helped organize at least 75,000 VA employees in some 100 elections nationwide over the last 16 years, as well as another 45,000 TSA employees last year.

“I am humbled, to say the least,” Cox told Federal Times. “Rabin is clearly a mountain, but to be chosen to be one of the faces on that mountain is a big thing.”

In April 2013, Cox will travel to Tel Aviv, Israel, where the Rabin Center will name an executive conference room for him. Past winners of the Rabin award have visited Israel in November, around the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, but Cox said his trip is being delayed so he can help with get-out-the-vote efforts for this year’s presidential election.

Cox hopes the award will provide him a broader platform to speak about how important it is to support public workers, and all the services they provide for Americans — especially at a time when politicians seemingly have their sights set on feds.

“Right now, somebody is processing Social Security checks, somebody’s helping the vets who have numerous health care issues in service to this country, somebody’s inspecting the food we eat so we don’t fall over dead, and someone’s protecting the air we breathe,” Cox said. “They are unsung heroes. Right now, we’ve been painted as villains throughout this country. I don’t believe we’re villains in any way, shape or form.”

Past winners of the Rabin award have included Teamsters president James Hoffa and Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America.

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Friday Fun: Saxophones, elephants and ‘AFGE and Me’

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The American Federation of Government Employees today dug up a gem of a recruitment video from its archives. Behold: “AFGE and Me.”

It’s got literally everything one could hope for. Saxophone riffs paired with footage of union members playing a cheap toy sax. Elephants and horse-riding Border Patrol agents. Hawaiian shirts. Astronauts. Little kids. And best of all, a maddeningly addictive earworm of a chorus.

It looks and sounds 80′s-tastic, but AFGE spokesman Tim Kauffman says it was actually made around 1994. So, who wants to make the inevitable dubstep remix?

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Herman Cain didn’t flub collective bargaining answer

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Herman Cain (photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is getting pilloried for his stumbling answer on Libya yesterday, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel overreached when it said Cain “also appeared to be unclear on the issue of collective bargaining as it involves federal employees.” Here’s the full exchange on federal collective bargaining between Cain and the Journal Sentinel editorial board (and the video is embedded below):

Q: Would you favor collective bargaining for federal employees?

Cain: They already have it, don’t they? Yeah. They already have collect–…

Q: No, they don’t.

Cain: They have unions.

Q: They have unions.

Cain: They have unions, OK?

Q: But they don’t have the same bargaining…

Cain: They don’t have the same bargaining powers. Here again, collective bargaining, I support as long as it doesn’t create an undue burden on the state, the government, the taxpayer, this whole thing. That’s the issue. The principle is one thing, the execution is something totally different.

The Journal Sentinel’s editor was incorrect to state that federal employees don’t have collective bargaining rights. The article posted online yesterday correctly noted that the vast majority of federal employees don’t collectively bargain over pay and benefits, but hundreds of thousands do collectively bargain over workplace conditions. (For example, earlier this year there was a debate among lawmakers over whether Transportation Security Administration screeners should be able to bargain over workplace conditions.)

But it seems somewhat odd for the Journal Sentinel to muddy the waters on a fine point of federal labor law, and then call Cain’s response unclear — especially since nothing Cain said was factually incorrect.


Army HR specialists vote to stay with AFGE

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More than 1,400 civilian human resources specialists at the Army Human Resources Command have voted to stay with the American Federation of Government Employees.

The specialists voted 302-81 earlier this month to join AFGE. The newly-consolidated employees were transferred from three other locations to Fort Knox, Ky., as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process. The employees were represented by AFGE at their former locations in Alexandria, Va., Indianapolis, and St. Louis, Mo., but the Federal Labor Relations Authority ordered a new election to see if they wanted to remain with the union.

FLRA is expected to certify the results Nov. 1.

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Kelley wins fourth term as NTEU president

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Kelley (photo from NTEU)

Colleen Kelley was elected to her fourth four-year term as president of the National Treasury Employees Union last night.

Delegates to NTEU’s national convention chose Kelley overwhelmingly over challenger Eddie Walker. About 86 percent of votes were cast for Kelley.

Kelley pledged to keep fighting political attacks on federal employees, and to get agencies to provide enough personnel, equipment and other resources so employees can do their jobs properly.

“I am honored by the privilege to continue my efforts to move NTEU forward, to help ensure the voices of federal employees are heard in Congress and in their agencies, and to work to see that the public recognizes the dedication, commitment and professionalism of the federal workforce,” Kelley said.

Walker criticized Kelley for losing the election to represent Transportation Security Administration employees, and said that under her leadership, NTEU has not pushed hard enough for employees.

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NTEU launches ‘They Work For U.S.’ campaign

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The National Treasury Employees Union is sick and tired of federal employees being knocked, and today announced a major nationwide public relations campaign that seeks to get them the respect they deserve. Their “Federal Employees … They Work For U.S.” campaign has distributed public service announcements to 200 television stations and 600 radio stations nationwide that highlight what feds contribute to society.

It comes at a time when the government is scrambling to find ways to slash the deficit, and cuts to federal employees’ pay and benefits have popped up on every major debt reduction plan. This has federal employee advocates nervous, and eager to change the narrative that has taken hold — primarily among conservatives — that  federal employees are overpaid, underworked drains on society. But Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has often said that while some people love to rail against “pasty-faced,” anonymous bureaucrats, their opinions change when you start talking about specific federal employees.

(Anyone who’s heard Berry’s usual stump speech has heard his incredibly animated impression of a grouchy, anti-fed citizen turning on a dime and enthusing about the National Park Service ranger who guided his family around Gettysburg, the federal firefighter who put out a forest fire and saved his home, and the Secret Service agent who exudes professionalism.)

This campaign aims to accomplish just that personalization. In a briefing with reporters announcing the campaign, NTEU President Colleen Kelley said:

Federal employees do very important work every day. They guard our borders, and they protect our air and our water supply, they provide school lunches to children around the country. They do important things that the public doesn’t really pay attention to because it happens, and so they expect it will happen.

Kelley said the PSAs could run anywhere from six months to a year, and NTEU plans to take the fight to social media as well, primarily through a Facebook page. Here are the two TV spots some stations are already running:

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