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AFGE’s Gage fires back at Romney

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(Darren McCollester, Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comment about “unfair” federal pay and benefits has raised the hackles of the two largest federal unions. The National Treasury Employees Union slammed Romney yesterday for going after middle-class federal workers. And today, American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage let loose with an even more cutting response:

You know what’s really unfair? The specter of having a new boss who thinks so little about the work that you do that he can’t bother getting his facts straight before making the ridiculous and patently false claim that federal workers are “getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve.”

Gage flat-out rejected Romney’s allegation that feds receive drastically higher pay and benefits than private-sector employees, and cited “decades of research by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics” that shows feds consistently earn much smaller salaries.

What Gage said is true, but may not tell the whole story. The Federal Salary Council, using BLS data, last reported in November that federal pay fell even further behind private-sector pay last year, and concluded that feds now earn 26.3 percent less than their private-sector counterparts. But some federal pay experts have their doubts about the council’s methodology. (Even Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has said the government’s pay gap numbers have a credibility problem.)

And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office came to very different conclusions earlier this year — partly by throwing health, retirement and other benefits in the mix, which the salary council does not. CBO found federal employees are compensated, on average, 16 percent higher than private-sector workers. (It’s also worth noting that Gage and other union officials heavily criticized CBO’s study when it was released.)

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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:

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AFGE: Shutdown would violate anti-slavery amendment

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One of the great unresolved questions about the possible government shutdown is whether essential employees who remain on the job would eventually get paid for the work they did. Experts first told us most likely yes, although not until the budget mess is resolved.

But the Office of Personnel Management muddied the waters last month at a labor-management council meeting when General Counsel Elaine Kaplan said that’s an outstanding legal issue that was left unresolved after the last shutdown. In 1996, Congress decided to pay everybody back — even those who were furloughed.

So nobody really knows whether you’ll ever get paid if you are called back into work this time. It may come down to how generous Congress is feeling toward federal employees these days. (Hint: Not very.)

The American Federation of Government Employees thinks this smacks of involuntary servitude, and would violate the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that outlawed slavery in 1865. AFGE National President John Gage sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder March 28 making that argument, and warning it may be unconstitutional:

Dedicated federal employees will come to work because of their commitment to the people they serve, but they should not be forced to do so under threat of termination and with no compensation. I urge you to work with AFGE and the Office of Management and Budget to craft a plan that avoids the harsh result of federal employees being forced to work without pay or be fired if they are not willing to do so.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution outlawed involuntary servitude in 1865 by mandating that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Yet in 2011 the same government that is charged with defending the Constitution appears to be preparing to order vast numbers of civilian employees, who have committed no crime, to work without pay under the threat [of] government initiated administrative discipline. This is frankly outrageous, and we fail to see how such a sweeping order survives constitutional scrutiny.

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AFGE’s Gage fears federal pensions are next

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John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, is worried that the proposed two-year federal pay freeze is just the beginning of the bad news for federal employees. In a video AFGE just posted, Gage said he will meet with the administration later this week, and “I’m expecting the other shoe to drop with something about our pensions coming up.”

Gage also uses the video to attack everything about the pay freeze, from the figures used to derive the expected savings, to Obama’s negotiating strategy, the assumption that federal employees should bear some of the recession’s burden, to USA Today’s coverage of the federal pay gap issue.

“This whole thing is a sham,” he said with regard to the savings estimations. But the sentiment carries through the entire 8-minute clip.

Gage said he will use this development as an opportunity to push back against the notion that federal employees are overpaid and have bloated pensions. “People don’t realize what a government worker is,” Gage said. “They don’t realize it’s a VA nurse, a Border Patrol agent, a Social Security claims representative, a mine inspector, and that’s what we have to do, like never before, is to get the American public to really focus on the services that the federal government, and federal workers and our members produce for them.”

But he’s still feeling pretty bleak about labor’s chances of fighting this: “I see no hope, really, of trying to get Congress to reverse this.”

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After the jump, Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s “cotside chat” video on the pay freeze.

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NSPS repeal update: Return to GS by 2012

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Here’s a few new details on the Defense Authorization Bill’s repeal of the National Security Personnel System that lawmakers on a House-Senate conference committee have agreed upon:

  • All 205,000 employees currently under NSPS will be transferred back to their original pay system by Jan. 1, 2012, according to a statement from Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y. The bulk of NSPS employees were originally under the General Schedule system.
  • American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage — who in June compared NSPS to Dracula — thinks the Defense Authorization Bill will be the final stake in the heart of the program.
  • But it’s not a done deal yet. Army Times reporter Rick Maze tells me that other issues could scuttle the authorization bill. Rick said that one provision in the bill, which would authorize more spending for Joint Strike Fighter engines, could get the whole thing vetoed. Also, Republican opposition to a Hate Crimes Prevention Act rider could trip the bill up in the Senate.
  • And Gage told me that the bill provides one slim chance for the Defense Department to save NSPS. According to Gage, language in the authorization bill says that if the Pentagon manages to “reconstruct,” or radically overhaul, NSPS to Congress’ satisfaction within a certain time period, and if Congress passes a bill saying it’s satisified with the NSPS reconstruction, the system could be saved. But, of course, that’s an awful lot of “ifs,” and at this point, it’s not looking good for NSPS.
  • Gage said that new department-wide flexibilities on hiring, assigning personnel and appraising employee performance will be subject to collective bargaining.

Keep watching www.federaltimes.com for more information.

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John Gage wins third term as AFGE president

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The American Federation of Government Employees yesterday re-elected John Gage to a third three-year term as national president.

“There is much to do on behalf of federal workers,” Gage told delegates to AFGE’s national convention in Reno after he was sworn in Aug. 27. “Our focus is now on the midterm congressional elections and making sure the American people have the public services they deserve. We plan to help elect a Congress with men and women who are actually responsive to the needs of the American people, particularly the nation’s working families.”

Delegates also re-elected J. David Cox as national secretary-treasurer, and chose Augusta Thomas to be their new national vice president for women’s and fair practices department. Andrea Brooks, AFGE’s former national vice president, passed away on April 26.

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Outsourcing: AFGE Strikes Back!

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 Update: AFGE has also sent yours truly this point-by-point refutation of industry’s opposition to the CLEAN UP Act.

We told you earlier today about a Republican bill introduced yesterday to promote the outsourcing of commercial work performed by federal employees.

Now enter the American Federation of Government Employees, a privatization foe, announcing it has taken “its contracting out reform campaign to the House of Representatives.”

In a  June 4 news release, union boss John Gage applauded the introduction of Mikulski’s CLEAN UP Act in the House by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. 

Gage said:

The CLEAN UP Act is vital to any serious effort to save taxpayer dollars and restore integrity to the federal procurement process…The bill calls on the Obama administration to correct problems in the Office of Management and Budget’s privatization process that have been identified by the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Defense Inspector General, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO), and others, before again using the A-76 circular.

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