Federal union workers join Occupy protesters
By Joe Davidson,
What do a bunch of protesters camped out in city parks nationwide have in common with people who are the backbone of the government establishment?
Enough that members of at least four federal labor unions rallied in support of the Occupy movement in a Lafayette Square demonstration Thursday.
On the day that a House committee approved legislation that would cut the federal workforce by 10 percent and during a time when federal employees are in a battle to protect their pay, benefits and jobs, federal union members gathered with other labor organizations to back the national Occupy movement’s call for economic justice.
At the lunchtime rally across from the White House, union members, led by National Nurses United, lent their voices to the movement that has railed against the nation’s lopsided distribution of wealth.
The union folks didn’t pitch tents in the square, but they clearly identified themselves with the 99 percent of Americans who are not wealthy and whom the occupiers say they represent.
“I definitely support Occupy D.C.,” said Eugene Hudson Jr., a national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees from Escondido, Calif. “I believe there is a lot of greed and lots of money going to the 1 percent.”
The union members made a direct connection between the loosely defined goals of the Occupy movement and federal employees.
“Most federal employees consider themselves to be part of the 99 percent,” Saul Schniderman, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Library of Congress Guild, said after the rally. “And many of us believe in the principles of social justice, just like the protesters in Occupy D.C. Everyone needs to pay their fair share, and this includes Wall Street corporations with their record profits and their CEOs with their skyrocketing salaries. I rallied today with other federal workers and unions to protest the influence that today’s modern-day robber barons have on our economy.”
Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, spoke at the rally, along with social activist Ralph Nader.
“As a labor organization, IFPTE fully supports the Occupy movement,” Junemann said afterward. “I think the goals and feelings of the Occupy movement are directly in line with that of labor. It certainly is refreshing for IFPTE, as I imagine it is for all of labor, to see what this organic movement stands for and to see it grow.”
He added that “the Occupy priorities are very much in line with labor’s priorities,” including universal health care, retirement security, good jobs, government investment in education, science, technology, innovation and respect in the workplace.
In addition to having representatives at the rally, at least a couple of federal unions have provided some material support for the occupiers.
AFSCME, whose Council 26 represents federal workers, has contributed rain tarps and more than 100 rain ponchos to Occupy D.C. campers in McPherson Square, said Carl Goldman, executive director of the council. IFPTE donated umbrellas on a rainy day last week when Junemann and his legislative director, Matthew Biggs, visited the McPherson occupiers.
Union members are careful to show support of the Occupy movement without trying to control it.
“We’re part of what they are fighting for,” said Lane Bodner, a staff member of the American Postal Workers Union. “We’re not trying to impose our agenda on them, but we do think they overlap.”
Legislation designed to protect federal employees against retaliation for exposing government mismanagement advanced in the House on Thursday when the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved it unanimously.
Whistleblower advocate Tom Devine, legal director of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, praised the action, but added: “Fine-tuning to the language is still needed before the law is ready, but the moment of truth will be whether the final House bill includes protections for intelligence community workers.”
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) “is courageously defending those whistle-blowers, despite threats from the House intelligence committee to kill the entire reform if it includes modest protections for those workers — which were negotiated over seven months by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”
The National Whistleblowers Center, however, urged Congress to fix “several toxic amendments” in the House bill. Among other things, the center said the legislation would empower “for the first time, the politically appointed Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to summarily dismiss whistleblower claims without a hearing.”
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