With the so-called supercommittee of 12 lawmakers gearing up to find $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by Thanksgiving, federal employees and their representatives are worried that their pay and benefits will be a big fat target. And rightly so — Republicans have recently made a lot of political hay out of bashing supposedly overpaid, underworked “bureaucrats.” And though President Obama is more sympathetic to feds and has spoken about how much they contribute to the nation, their pay and benefits aren’t sacrosanct to him — he froze federal pay scale increases for two years and was reportedly on board for steep cuts to retirement benefits earlier this summer.
The Federal Workers Alliance, a coalition of 22 labor unions representing more than 300,000 federal employees, today sent a white paper to the supercommittee pushing back against several anti-fed proposals that have repeatedly surfaced over the last year. FWA rails against cutting or further freezing federal pay, moving to a so-called “high five” system for setting pensions, turning the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program into a voucher-based system, cutting federal staffing levels, and furloughing federal employees.
All those proposals would hurt the federal workforce that is vital to running the nation and make the government less effective, FWA said.
“Federal workers are not going to sit on the sidelines while their jobs and retirement security are up for grabs,” FWA Chairman Bill Dougan said. “There is simply too much at stake. We are asking committee members to stand with our nation’s federal employees and make certain they don’t lose the resources they need to keep our promises to the American people.”
The Supercommittee yesterday held its first actual meeting, and heard testimony from Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf. Yesterday’s conversation focused on how we got into this mess, and didn’t touch on federal employee issues. But that is certain to come up sooner or later.
Roll Call this morning published a column from Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who is pushing for significant reductions to the federal workforce — and calling out federal employee unions:
While White House officials have paid lip service to the commission recommendations [to cut the federal workforce by 10 percent], they remain beholden to public employee unions, vehemently opposed to modernization and rightsizing of the workforce, whose members and unions finance and mobilize on behalf of the president and Congressional Democrats.
[...] The fact is the federal payroll, and the legacy costs, must be rightsized. Public sector union leadership can recognize this and assist us, or they can continue their knee-jerk opposition to the modern workforce. We hope they choose the latter.
What do you think? Is Ross right, and are unions standing in the way of much-needed changes to the federal workplace? Or do you think unions aren’t the problem, and Ross is simply playing politics by taking a swipe at them? Sound off below.
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.
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?
The National Federation of Federal Employees says federal passport specialists are overworked and often don’t have time to thoroughly review passport applications.
This burden may be responsible for the State Department’s failure to identify five of seven fraudulent passport applications the Government Accountability Office submitted in a covert operation, the union argued in a press release today.
Passport agency workers have to meet productivity quotas and “failing to meet these numbers in the interest of carefully reviewing citizenship documents could lead to termination,” according to the NFFE.
Passport specialists were unable to provide input when higher-ups were formulating the quotas, the union says.
Also, reforms instituted after a 2009 GAO report that revealed a similar failure to detect passport fraud may have ironically hindered passport workers’ ability to recognize fake documents. NFFE said passport specialists “are now distracted by additional and stricter requirements for how they notate applications” and “that extra attention comes at the expense of reviewing the overall case and its citizenship evidence.”
UPDATE: Here’s GSA’s statement: “GSA encourages the use of social media technologies to enhance communication, collaboration and information exchange in support of GSA’s mission. GSA is currently in negotiations with NFFE to go through normal labor management processes to reach resolution. Last fall, GSA successfully completed negotiations with another labor organization representing GSA employees on this same issue.”
The National Federation of Federal Employees today said negotiations with the General Services Administration have broken down over a social media policy for GSA employees. NFFE said GSA’s new rules on social media could result in an employee getting fired for posting their thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or other Internet sites — even if they did their online musing from home on their own time.
NFFE said GSA fears that an employee’s online opinions could be seen as expressing GSA positions. (You don’t want just anyone setting official GSA policy on whether the double rainbow guy is high, or merely stupid.)
In all seriousness, there are no simple answers when it comes to the issue of boundaries when expressing opinions via social media, e-mail and other online features. It’s a hard lesson that some in the media have learned recently. Washington Post blogger David Weigel resigned last month after private e-mails to a listserv for liberal reporters called JournoList surfaced, in which Weigel trashed conservatives such as Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh. And Octavia Nasr lost her job as CNN’s senior Middle East editor earlier this month after tweeting that she respected a dead cleric who helped found Hezbollah.
But back to GSA: NFFE has asked for a federal mediator to resolve the dispute with the agency. NFFE said that negotiations broke down Friday after GSA refused to consider any of their suggestions for clarifying the policy and ensuring employees’ rights to free speech would be preserved. I’ve asked GSA for their side of this story and will update with their comment.
Government contractors and subcontractors are now required to post signs that “inform their employees of their rights as employees under federal labor laws.” Acquisition workers will have to write the provision into every contract they write from now on.
The rule went into effect yesterday, about a month after the Labor Department published it in the Federal Register. It’s based on a Jan. 30, 2009 executive order from President Obama. The president wrote at the time that his order was “designed to promote economy and efficiency in government procurement. When the Federal Government contracts for goods or services, it has a proprietary interest in ensuring that those contracts will be performed by contractors whose work will not be interrupted by labor unrest.”
Essentially, the order and the rule are designed to ensure that employees are aware of their right to join a union. The move is part of a package of labor-related executive orders issued in early 2009. One, related to collective bargaining agreements on large construction projects, already resulted in a change to federal procurement rules. Two others are still working their way through the pipeline.
Rebecca Pearson of the Washington law firm Venable said the information contained in the notices required to be posted under the new rule is fairly benign, but that the move is part of the Obama administration’s larger “pro-union agenda.” She also worried that the rule allows for contractors to be suspended or disbarred if they don’t comply.
The Chicago regional director of the Federal Labor Relations Authority today denied the American Federation of Government Employees’ bid for an election to determine which union will represent Transportation Security Administration employees.
The regional FLRA upheld its previous determination that because TSA screeners do not have collective bargaining rights, it has no jurisdiction to process the petition for an election. AFGE said it will appeal to the full FLRA within 60 days.
AFGE and the National Treasury Employees Union are each seeking to represent roughly 40,000 TSA screeners. NTEU has filed a similar petition with FLRA.
Reactions are starting to roll in on what may be the smallest pay raise in the General Schedule’s history. The three largest federal unions applauded the White House’s return to pay parity, but objected that the modest pay raise would do little to close the pay gap between federal and private-sector workers. The American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union and the National Federation of Federal Employees all pledged to push Congress to increase the administration’s modest pay raise.
Here’s a sampling of comments:
At best, 1.4 percent is a modest adjustment. But in this economy, a modest increase is better than no increase at all.
- NFFE National President William Dougan
There’s an interesting discrepancy between the House and Senate bills that would provide the Postal Service with short-term relief from some of its retiree health care obligations (background here if you’re not familiar with the issue).
On the House side is HR 22, one of the simplest pieces of legislation I’ve ever read. It gives the Postal Service three years of relief from its current retiree health benefit obligations — period.
On the Senate side, there’s S 1507. It calls for a similar change in the Postal Service’s health care payment schedule. But it also includes an amendment that changes the way arbitrators handle negotiations over postal contracts.