Ignoring a group of voters is no way to win their support.
But ignoring is what the Republican presidential hopefuls have done to a federal union, and by extension to federal employees, by refusing to answer a campaign questionnaire.
In December, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) sent a dozen questions to a dozen candidates, two Democrats and 10 Republicans. IFPTE represents government and other workers, and the questions extended beyond the federal workplace. It’s no surprise Democrats have more in common with the union faithful. But no response from any of the Republicans shows no respect for the concerns of federal employees and other unionized people, including the independents and Republicans among them.
Candidates get many requests to answer questionnaires and it’s not unusual for some to be ignored. But which get answered says something about the candidates’ priorities, efforts to stimulate potential supporters and how serious they are about reaching beyond their base to other segments of the electorate.
Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders did respond to the IFPTE and displayed their similar — though not exactly the same — pro-worker, pro-union stances. They also expressed support for union-backed positions that apply specifically to federal employees.
Here are some of the questions to the candidates and a summary of their answers, which IFPTE recently released.
One sweeping question asked whether the candidates would “actively work to preserve the collective bargaining, Title V Civil Service protections, pay and Veteran’s Preference of federal employees, as well as work to ensure that there will be no more cuts to federal employee pensions, and that federal workers will receive pay raises commensurate to the services they provide the American taxpaying public?”
Sanders said yes and took the opportunity to stand up for the federal workforce: “For far too long, the extreme right wing has demonized, belittled, and sought to destroy the federal workforce. That is wrong, that is unconscionable, and that has got to change. The fact of the matter is that no other worker has been asked to sacrifice more on the altar of deficit reduction than our federal workers.”
Clinton supports “appropriate pay raises,” opposes “across-the-board arbitrary pay freezes” and recalled the three-year freeze on basic federal pay rates: “I saw how difficult it was for employees to be told that even though they were working hard and their living costs were going up, their paychecks were not. The government is not going to be able to recruit and retain the high-caliber employees it needs if it does not pay federal employees fairly for their work.”
The group asked whether candidates supported the Employee Free Choice Act, which would facilitate union organizing by allowing a majority of workers to choose a union through a sign-up system rather than an election.
Sanders said: “Absolutely. … One of the most significant reasons for the 40-year decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits have been severely undermined. It’s time for low-wage workers, including caregivers, to organize.”
Clinton touted her credentials as an original co-sponsor of the legislation. “We need to find ways to support workers that want a union in their workplace to have fair elections without fear of employer retaliation or intimidation. … Labor organizing should be protected in our courts. Workers need recourse when they are punished by their employers for organizing.”
They differ on backing a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
Sanders supports raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2020. “It is a national disgrace that millions of full-time workers are living in poverty and millions more are forced to work two or three jobs just to pay their bills,” he said.
Clinton is more conservative, saying she favors raising the minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $12: “After that, I support indexing the federal minimum wage to the median wage, so it keeps rising over time.” She did support workers in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle who demanded a $15 minimum wage.
Federal labor organizations have long campaigned against having private contractors do jobs that are considered “inherently governmental.” To a question on the “privatization of public sector jobs,” Sanders said private contractors can be more expensive than federal workers and cited the government’s decision to use federal airport screeners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “While this system is not perfect,” he said, “I think most people would agree that airports are a much safer place today as a result of a federalized airport security workforce.”
Clinton recalled her opposition to George W. Bush administration efforts to privatize federal jobs. “As President,” she wrote, “I will oppose efforts to contract out work unless doing so is necessary, in the best interest of the federal government and is clearly cost effective.”
On Social Security, both candidates oppose proposals to have payments tied to an inflation formula called the “chained CPI” that would lead to lower monthly payments.
Sanders used this question to demand wealthy Americans “pay their fair share into the system. … My Social Security plan would lift the cap and make those earning over $250,000, the wealthiest 1.5 percent, pay the same share into Social Security as the middle class.”
Clinton said she opposes “accounting gimmicks like chained CPI” and privatization of Social Security. She also would have the wealthy pay more into the system. “This could include taxing some of their income above the current Social Security cap, and taxing some of their income not currently taken into account by the Social Security system,” she said.
We asked the campaigns of the remaining Republican presidential candidates — Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich — why they did not respond to the union questionnaire.
They ignored us, too.