Federal labor organizations, fearing their members will pay more than their fair share to fix the nation’s financial problems, are fighting back.
The National Treasury Employees Union launched a high-profile public service campaign Thursday to counter “unwarranted and harmful attacks on federal workers and public service.”
The campaign features radio and television public service announcements available to 200 television stations and 600 radio stations across the country, a Facebook page and a Web site, theyworkforus.org.
The centerpiece of the Web site says:
●drink your next glass of water
●eat your next meal
●visit the doctor’s office
●deposit your paycheck
Before you take your next breath . . .
Consider, who’s working day and night
so that you can do all this safely?
The campaign is designed not only to boost the image of federal employees but also to strengthen opposition to legislative proposals that would hit the federal workforce.
“When you stop and think about the innumerable ways federal employees work to improve the quality of life in America, it is hard to comprehend why they have recently been the target of harmful attacks,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley says on the Web site.
“Among other damaging proposals, political pundits and some members of Congress have called for cuts to the federal workforce. These cuts not only impact federal employees, but they pose serious — and unacceptable — consequences for the American public. Slashing agency funding or the number of federal workers would mean fewer food safety inspections, less secure borders, threats to the security of our savings and investments and diminished services for veterans, the elderly and the disabled.”
The proposals, mostly sponsored by House Republicans, go beyond workforce cuts and cover a broad range of areas, from the early days of a worker’s employment through retirement. In fact, it is their retirement benefits where federal employees are most likely to first pay to help Uncle Sam get his finances right.
“They’re going to nail us for $65 billion out of retirement,” said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
The $65 billion figure is the estimate he’s heard for what government coffers would reap from increased employee contributions for pension benefits and basing those benefits on the five highest paid years of employment instead of the highest three. By his union’s calculations, that would amount to about $1,000 yearly in “straight out-of-pocket tax” for a lower-level, grade GS-5 employee.
“I think it’s quite a hit to federal employees,” Gage said.
It would be more like a beat-down if all the proposals were adopted. That’s unlikely, but the number of bills targeting federal workers demonstrates why they are worried.
NTEU has compiled a list of a dozen “legislative proposals harmful to federal employees,” and more could be added. Among those listed by NTEU are bills that would:
●Require mandatory, two-week unpaid furloughs.
●Extend the current two-year pay freeze already imposed on federal workers to three years.
●Freeze the size of the federal workforce or cut it by 10 to 20 percent.
●Double the probationary period for federal employment from one year to two.
●Force the firing of federal employees who are significantly behind on their income taxes.
With its “They Work for U.S.” campaign, NTEU is taking the offensive in an ongoing battle that jarred union leaders. The campaign provides a checklist of detailed action items for NTEU chapters, including a sample letter to the editor, an op-ed article and letters to radio and television stations urging them to run the public service announcements. On Tuesday, Kelley led a rally in Lower Manhattan that urged federal employees to speak out about their pride in federal service.
AFGE had a campaign supporting federal employees that used paid radio ads earlier this year.
AFGE also is taking the fight directly to lawmakers’ districts, confronting sponsors of legislation the union opposes. Gage said AFGE plans a total of 20 demonstrations around the country at the offices of members of Congress. Two have already been held at the offices of Republican Reps. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Jason Chaffetz of Utah.
Gage acknowledged that the wave of proposals targeting federal employees put him in a funk.
“It seems it’s just rolling right over us and we haven’t been able to turn it around,” he said. “We have to fight back.”
They are, but it’s a tough fight.