Federal Times Blogs

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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Union fears pay cuts could hurt TSP savings

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Federal employees’ Thrift Savings Plan accounts could end up collateral damage in the push to hike federal employees’ pension contributions, the American Federation of Government Employees said yesterday.

At Monday’s meeting with the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, AFGE public policy director Jacque Simon asked for more granular, grade-by-grade data on TSP contribution rates. Simon said she wants to know whether lower-paid federal employees are pulling back on their TSP contributions in response to proposals to increase pension contributions by anywhere from 1.2 percent to 5 percent.

“It’s going to be increasingly important to have access to data like that,” Simon said. “We have good reason to believe that TSP participation by people in lower grades is going to decline as people are forced to pay more for their FERS annuity. [...] It’s crucial we get that [information] not next year, but today.”

The board said it didn’t have data that could be broken down in that way, since it only tracks the dollar amount of employees’ contributions — not percentages of their overall salaries. But the board said it could get limited information on contribution rates for automatically-enrolled feds, although those participants make up a miniscule portion of the overall TSP population. Simon said that would be better than nothing.

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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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AFGE’s new ad opposing pay freeze: ‘Explain it to me, GOP’

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Click to enlarge. (Courtesy of AFGE)

The American Federation of Government Employees is stepping up its campaign against House Republicans who want to further freeze federal pay to cover the cost of a payroll tax extension. AFGE this weekend will launch a nationwide series of television and print ads titled “Explain It To Me, GOP,” that wonder how cutting federal pay and benefits will help the economy recover.

The ad seeks to put a face on federal employees who lawmakers often discuss in general — and sometimes disparaging — terms. It features members of AFGE locals — a Minnesota Veterans Affairs Department nurse, an electronics worker at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania, and a corrections officer at the Miami Federal Detention Center — speaking about their not-exorbitant salaries and very real household expenses.

Republicans on a payroll tax conference committee are pushing for a one-year extension to the federal pay freeze, but Democrats have rejected that proposal. House Republicans have also attached a proposal to cut federal retirement benefits and increase the amount feds pay for their pension to a transportation bill.

What do you think of AFGE’s ad? Will it help sway public opinion, or will it fall on deaf ears?

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CBO pay gap study draws unions’ fire, conservatives’ praise

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Yesterday’s Congressional Budget Office report on federal employee compensation is already renewing the debate over the federal-vs.-private sector pay gap. The report — which concluded federal employees are compensated 16 percent higher than private sector workers — prompted the conservative Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute and the libertarian Cato Institute to take victory laps.

Heritage’s Jason Richwine and James Sherk quibbled with CBO’s methodology (CBO’s findings generally tracked with Heritage’s conclusions that feds receive higher pay and benefits than the private sector, though CBO said the difference was much slimmer). But overall, they view the report as vindication and used it to swipe at Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, federal unions, and other left-leaning organizations who criticized Heritage’s assertions. Said Richwine and Sherk:

Heritage’s prior critics, however, must now either redirect their same harsh invective at the CBO or — much better — acknowledge the validity of our conclusions.

The American Federation of Government Employees is choosing the former. In a statement released last night, AFGE National President John Gage blasted the study as “pointless,” “absurd,” “academic and irrelevant.” Gage said:

Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Last day to vote for TSA union

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A TSA agent directs travelers through security lines at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Jeff Swensen / Getty Images)

Today is the last day to vote in the runoff election to decide which union will represent some 43,000 Transportation Security Administration screeners. Voters can choose between the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Employees Union.

The first election, in which screeners could also choose “no union,” ended inconclusively when nobody received a clear majority. Voters do not have the option of choosing no union this time. AFGE had a slight advantage in the first election’s results, and received 274 more votes than NTEU.

Eligible voters can cast their ballots online or over the phone until 11:59 p.m. tonight. The votes will be tallied on Thursday. Speak now, or forever hold your peace.

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TSA runoff election begins May 23

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A TSA agent directs travelers through security lines at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Jeff Swensen / Getty Images)

The Federal Labor Relations Authority yesterday set the Transportation Security Administration’s runoff election to begin May 23. The voting period will end June 21, and the votes will be tallied June 23.

The election will decide whether the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Employees Union will represent some 43,000 TSA screeners. The first vote — a three-way campaign between AFGE, NTEU and “no union” — ended inconclusively when nobody received a clear majority.

The first election’s results were very close, with AFGE received 274 more votes than NTEU. Voters will not have the option of selecting “no union” in the runoff election. Like the first election, screeners voting in the runoff will cast their ballots over the phone or online. FLRA will mail election packages to screeners May 23, which will include instructions and identification numbers necessary to vote.

Both unions’ leaders say they expect to win the runoff. AFGE’s John Gage said:

AFGE won the first round of a fierce contest against a worthy opponent. We expect to win the runoff election as well and are pleased that FLRA has cleared the way for a swift resolution to this process. I’m asking TSOs to come out and vote for us one more time. We’re one step closer to bringing you a better workplace.

NTEU’s Colleen Kelley said:

NTEU looks forward to the runoff election. We are confident our record of accomplishments and our program for their future will lead TSA officers to elect NTEU to help them improve their work lives and their workplaces. We have got the momentum. It is a dead heat, and we are going to pull ahead.

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TSA union election: How did you vote?

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A TSA agent directs travelers through security lines at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Jeff Swensen / Getty Images)

The election to choose an official union for the Transportation Security Administration ends tonight. It’s been a long time coming, and the winner stands to gain a bargaining unit of roughly 43,000 screeners.

All you screeners out there, feel free to sound off below. Did you vote for the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Employees Union, and why? Was there one particularly important issue that swayed your vote? What do you hope the winning union does for TSA?

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