Lunch-hour visitors looking for some White House action got a mini-version of a 1960s demonstration yesterday. More than 1,000 angry but orderly federal computer operators, welders, statisticians and nurses walked around the boss's home/office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. asking for higher pay and lower health premiums.
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees union from New York and Nebraska as well as Bowie and Arlington are busy this week lobbying Congress for more political freedom, more money and broader health coverage. They were joined by some government workers on the lunch hour, a batch of reporters and at least two people who said they turn out for as many White House rallies as possible.
AFGE President John Sturdivant strongly criticized the Bush administration for trying to cut the government's share of insurance premiums by about $850 million. If successful, he said, the cutback drive would mean a more costly and less comprehensive health plan for workers and retirees. They now pay about 40 percent of their health premiums.
To show its unhappiness, Sturdivant said the union will pull out of the federal health program next year. That means members with AFGE's plan must find another health plan for 1991.
David Schlein, a Labor Department employee who is AFGE's president for the Washington area, made a pitch for statehood for the District. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Tom Donohue said organized labor supports higher federal pay, relaxation of the Hatch Act and broader health coverage.
Karla McIntosh, an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs from Iowa City, said she is here for some eye-to-eye lobbying with Iowa's congressional delegation. She said she thinks that her 17th letter to Rep. Thomas J. Tauke (R-Iowa) persuaded him to vote to modify the Hatch Act. Bush vetoed the modification last week. Now unions are rallying support for a congressional override of the veto.
McIntosh's two young activist sons showed they are learning about the art of friendly persuasion. During the rally they lobbied her for funds to buy snow cones to ward off the 87-degree heat.
AFGE's rally was well timed. The Senate today starts writing its version of a new federal pay plan. It will feature tracking federal salaries with private-sector pay.
The House this week is expected to override the veto of Hatch Act changes. The real test should come in July when the Senate votes.
As AFGE members paraded from the White House to the Office of Management and Budget a block away, two camera-toting Thai tourists asked a group of equally bewildered local federal workers the purpose of the demonstration. "I think they're Eastern Europeans rallying for freedom," said a glib, but misinformed G-man.
A local man named Max ("My last name is nothing to you!") yelled at the AFGE marchers to "get jobs and stop blocking traffic." A very large AFGE marcher stopped briefly and said: "Sir, we have jobs. We are just trying to make them better."