President Obama and Mitt Romney ignored the federal workforce during their debates, but that doesn’t mean the workforce is ignoring them.
Federal employee unions are geared up for the election, now less than two weeks away. Although the candidates largely overlooked federal employees during the campaign, their positions are well known. As a result, Obama is the clear choice for federal unions. That’s not to say Romney won’t get the votes of some federal workers. And in a few cases, organized labor has endorsed down-ticket Republicans.
More than two dozen federal employee organizations, not all of them unions, have joined the “America Counts on Us” campaign in an effort, the group says, “to reverse the political attacks on America’s federal and postal workers and retirees.”
The nonpartisan coalition does not endorse candidates. It does try to raise awareness of the work of federal employees and the fact that 85 percent of them and their families are outside the Washington area, in districts all across the country. The group held “days of action” earlier this month in Montana, New Mexico, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Hawaii and Florida, during which federal workers and retirees visited and phoned the offices of Democratic and Republican candidates and urged them to make federal employee issues a priority.
Here’s what some other federal employee organizations are doing this campaign:
American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. and the union’s national secretary treasurer, Eugene Hudson Jr., will lead a contingent of AFGE members working to support Obama in Northern Virginia on Saturday.
“We are walking in every battleground state,” said Robert Nicklas, AFGE’s political action director. “We have almost 50 staff and members working full time on the elections, with more to come.”
The National Treasury Employees Union said its grass-roots program includes mailings, phone banks and get-out-the-vote drives on behalf of the president and congressional candidates. NTEU is focused on battleground states, such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida.
“While we have not agreed on every issue, President Obama has continued to advocate strongly for shared sacrifice, rather than disproportionately balancing the budget on the backs of middle-class federal workers,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said. “Federal employees know that a Romney-Ryan administration would target them for drastic cuts and blame them for nearly all of our nation’s problems.”
She recorded a video urging her members to vote because “those elected to office decide every aspect of your work life.”
Pay is certainly a key part of work life, and federal unions were critical of Obama when he proposed a freeze on basic federal pay rates. It was approved by Congress. Romney’s Web site says that federal workers are overcompensated by up to 40 percent and that “this must be corrected.”
The International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers supports Obama, a long list of Democrats and a few Republicans. The union’s endorsement of Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey says he “is a leading Republican lawmaker fighting against ideological efforts to dismantle unions” who “has also voted against the privatization of federal jobs, [and] against efforts to do away with official time for federal employees.”
Several unions, including the American Postal Workers Union, participate with larger AFL-CIO efforts. “We have been encouraging our members to participate in voter registration efforts, including National Voter Registration Day and local registration drives,” APWU spokeswoman Sally Davidow said. “In some locations, APWU members are participating in Labor 2012 activities, which are being organized by the AFL-CIO.”
Obama is among the 290 federal candidates endorsed by the National Association of Letter Carriers . “They include hundreds of Democrats, dozens of Republicans and some independents,” said spokesman Phil Dine. “These endorsements are based solely on candidate support for a strong U.S. Postal Service and for support on relevant workplace issues.”
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association does not endorse candidates, but it did send a questionnaire about federal employee issues to the presidential campaigns. NARFE said Romney’s campaign didn’t answer the questionnaire. That says something about Romney’s concern for federal employee and retiree issues.
Obama, in response to NARFE, said that “rather than blindly cutting our federal workforce, my administration has taken great strides to cut waste, get the most from taxpayer dollars, and reform how the government works so the American people get the best service possible.”
The National Federation of Federal Employees endorsed Obama, because, its press release said, he has “consistently demonstrated a deep respect and admiration for the work federal employees perform every day for the benefit of their fellow Americans.”
Yet, while elections “count tremendously,” NFFE spokesman Cory Bythrow added via e-mail, “the real work begins once a President is in office. The issue before the election is whether or not we choose a President who wishes to work with federal employees, not work over federal employees.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.