Feb. 17, 2012
AFGE Denounces Plans to Have New Federal Employees Pay for Payroll tax Cuts, Unemployment Benefits: AFGE today denounced Congress’ plans to pay for extending unemployment insurance by requiring new federal workers who start after 2012 to pay more for their retirement. The new hires will be asked to pay 2.3 percent more into their pension programs, an immediate reduction in take home pay. The House and the Senate voted Friday morning to pass the conference report that pays for the unemployment insurance extension by taxing the working and middle class Americans. For a GS-3 nursing assistant earning $27,322 while working in a VA hospital psychiatric ward, this will be a $628 annual tax increase. For a GS-5 USDA meat and poultry inspector earning $31,825 while protecting Americans from E.Coli and other deadly diseases, this will be a $732 annual tax increase.
“I am outraged that lawmakers are willing to pay for this extension in unemployment insurance by forcing new federal workers to pay substantially more for their retirement,” AFGE President John Gage said. “Going after the pay and benefits of working-class men and women does nothing to create new jobs in this country. We continue to pay massive subsidies to oil companies and bail out the banks that started this recession with their shady lending practices that caused millions of Americans to lose their homes. Explain to me how that makes any sense.”
President Gage said no group has sacrificed like federal employees. Congress froze their pay for two years, which cost federal employees $60 billion in lost wages. While the plans affect only new hires, current federal employees are still on the chopping block. Right wing lawmakers in the House want to squeeze more out of federal employees to pay for the massive transportation bill. Their proposal would increase federal employee retirement contributions four-fold and lower the average salary that’s used to calculate pensions. These changes would result in a massive 40% cut to a federal employee’s retirement check.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Steny Hoyer strongly oppose the right wing’s push to pay for part of the payroll conference report by targeting federal workers.
“I do not rise to necessarily defeat this bill. I'm going to vote against this bill. I am for almost all of this bill,” Hoyer said on the House floor. “What we are funding this bill with was unnecessary, unfair, and ought to be rejected. I want to say at the outset that my friend, Mr. [Dave] Camp, and I had a very positive discussion. I believe that Mr. Camp and I could have reached an agreement which would have put me in support of this legislation. We didn't get there….I know that everybody on my side would have supported the agreement that Mr. Van Hollen and I put forward. That agreement would, as the current agreement would say, that the only individuals paying for this bill out of 315 million Americans are the two million civilian workers who work for us, who work for all of us, who day after day, week after week, month after month make sure we give the services to the people of the United States, protect the United states, ensure that our food is safe, ensure that we have FBI agents on the job, make sure at the Defense Intelligence Agency we know what other people are doing, these are all civilian employees. Highly skilled, highly trained, highly educated and, yes, highly motivated. And every day they give outstanding service to the people of the United States. We talk here and we pass laws here but none of that talk and none of those laws make a difference unless somebody implements what we say and the policies that we set. This Congress is on the path to be the most anti-federal worker Congress that I have served in."
“I’m flabbergasted that [they] are more willing to protect billionaires and add to the debt than keep our economy rolling and provide a safety net for those going through very tough times,” Senator Mikulski said. “I support what we want to accomplish by extending the payroll tax break, continuing unemployment insurance and stopping a pay cut to doctors who care for the aged and infirm. But I’ll be darned if I agree to pay for it by cutting payments to hospitals that serve the poor and asking civil servants to take another cut in their pensions when billionaires don’t have to contribute a dime.”
Congress Gets Better Pension Deal Than Federal Workers in New Bill: Members of Congress will get more lucrative pensions than new federal employees under a little-known provision in the bill that extends payroll tax relief and unemployment insurance.
“Thanks to Rep. Dave Camp, members of Congress appear to be on the same footing as federal employees but in fact they’re keeping a luxurious benefit that lets them retire years earlier than federal workers without any reduction in their pension,” AFGE President John Gage said. “This kind of underhanded shell game gives hypocrisy a bad name.”
Under the back-room deal that was rushed to a vote today, federal employees hired after Dec. 31, 2012 will pay 3.1 percent of their salary toward their pensions – a four-fold increase from the current rate. New members of Congress will pay the same rate as new federal employees, but they will be able to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service without the significant penalty most federal employees receive for retiring early.
“A federal employee and a member of Congress who both start on the same day will pay the same rate toward their pension, but the federal employees’ pension will be reduced by 50 percent for retiring early while the congressman will be able to retire years earlier and start receiving their full pension immediately,” Gage said. “Apparently, the drafters of this sham legislation think they deserve a better deal than what they forced on federal workers.”
Gage particularly criticized Rep. Dave Camp for insisting that the extension in unemployment insurance be paid for on the backs of federal employees. “There were 10 different ways, including eliminating subsidies for big profitable corporations, they could have funded this, but for totally political reasons Camp and other House leaders decided to go after federal employees. And now, to find out that they cut a better deal for themselves, it’s just sickening,” Gage said.
We Are Not in a Battle; We’re in a War! Nearly 1,000 AFGE members who gathered in Washington, D.C. this week for the union’s annual Legislative Conference stormed the offices of their senators and representatives to push back against attacks on their pay and retirement. Marching to the Cannon House Office Building Tuesday morning, the activists were fed up with the attacks and misinformation purported by extremist lawmakers who want to destroy working families and enrich their campaign donors. AFGE members told their representatives how attacking their pay and pensions is hurting the middle class and destroying jobs. Starving agency budgets, cutting public services and workers while giving away tax breaks to the wealthy is also bad policy.
“Explain it to me how cutting federal retirement helps unemployment. Connect those dots for me. I don’t get it,” AFGE President John Gage said at the legislative conference Sunday afternoon. Gage urged AFGE members to get involved and defend agency programs and our way of life before the right wing can take out all government unions like they’re doing at the state level. “Here’s our war!” President Gage said.
AFGE National Secretary Treasurer J. David Cox said the government cannot be funded at the 1950s levels when there was no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or voting rights. If the attacks on workers are allowed to continue, there will be no collective bargaining rights but massive privatization and cuts in agency budgets, federal pay and benefits.
“The standard of American living needs to move up, not down,” the national secretary treasurer told AFGE activists.
These attacks on federal employees and the middle class were originated by the right wing, notably Grover Norquist, who has headed Americans for Tax Reform since 1986 and has had more than 270 members of Congress signed a pledge promising never to vote to raise taxes. Norquist’s war on the middle class directly affects federal employees because when the country doesn’t have enough revenues, it has to cut federal jobs, pay, pensions, agency budgets and public services. Political Action Committee and Issue Mobilization Director Bob Nicklas said if we want to fight the Norquist army and win, AFGE Locals and members need to do a lot more this year. The union last year held over 300 rallies and events across the country to shine the spotlight on lawmakers who tried to destroy federal jobs and slash public services. This year we should increase the number to thousands.
“We need to fight back because they smell blood. They’re coming after us,” Nicklas said. “We’re not in a battle; we’re in a war. And we can’t win a war by being polite.”
Nicklas stressed the importance of educating the public. We need to build public awareness of Norquist’s war on working Americans and explain what happens if federal employees are not allowed to do our jobs.
We cannot balance our budget by cutting and gutting government, said Carolyn Federoff, vice chair of AFGE’s HUD council and vice president of AFGE Local 3258, who spoke during the plenary session about what it would take to balance our budget if we were only going to cut government. We’ll share her excellent presentation here once it’s ready.
Besides AFGE leaders, AFGE members also heard from members of Congress. Sen. Ben Cardin from Maryland thanked AFGE members for coming to Washington and being actively involved because this is not just about federal pay but America’s future. Cardin gave an example of a person who wanted to get rid of government but his daughter gets free lunches at school, he himself gets his earned income tax credit, and his mother just got a hip replacement thanks to Medicare.
“We’ve got to do a better job explaining to the American people what this is about,” the senator said. “Because this is about preserving the dignity of our seniors. It is about the opportunity to put our children to good schools and a quality of life, and it’s about preserving a middle class in America.”
Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, welcomed AFGE members to Washington for their annual Congressional Breakfast before the march on Capitol Hill later on that day. He said continued cuts to the federal workforce will only make government less efficient, harm the federal workforce, and discourage the best and brightest from joining or staying in federal service. “Federal employees have sacrificed enough already over these two years. It is illogical to think that we can solve our budget deficit problems and balance our books on the backs of federal employees.”
AFGE is asking members who have not signed up for action alerts and others communications from us to please do so here.
White House Releases 2013 Budget Request: President Barack Obama on Monday released his $3.8 trillion budget proposal that calls for investments in education, transportation, and construction projects. The budget proposal calls for higher taxes for corporations and families making over $250,000, in part by letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire the end of this year. It would eliminate tax subsidies for housing, health care, retirement, and childcare for those making over $1 million. It proposes that millionaires pay at least 30 percent on their annual income. The budget asks seniors with higher income to pay more for certain Medicare benefits beginning in 2017 (unlike the right wing’s proposal to privatize the whole program). The budget would eliminate 12 tax breaks to oil and gas companies to raise $41 billion over 10 years.
The budget proposes a 0.5 percent pay raise for federal employees but would require them to increase their contributions to their pension programs by 1.2 percent over three years beginning in 2013. The budget also proposes to eliminate FERS supplement for new employees – which is different than the right wing’s proposal that would eliminate the benefit for most employees retiring after this year. The budget calls for $20 billion cuts in over 120 discretionary programs and consolidations of 13 programs. It would require $14 billion cuts in 25 mandatory programs. The president said his budget request would save at least $4 trillion over the next 10 years.
Agencies that see their budget go up
Education: $69.8 billion, a $1.7 billion increase.
Veterans Affairs: $61 billion, up from $58.5 billion.
Energy: $27.2 billion, up from $26.3 billion.
Small Business Administration: $949 million, up by $32 million.
National Science Foundation: $7.4 billion, a $340 million increase.
State: $51.6 billion, up from $50.8 billion.
Transportation: $74 billion, up by $1.4 billion.
Interior: $11.4 billion, up from $11.3 billion.
Commerce: $8 billion, a $380 million increase.
Social Security Administration: $11.7 billion, up from$11.6 billion.
Health and Human Services: $76.4 billion, a $0.3 billion increase.
HUD: $44.8 billion, up by $1.4 billion.
Agencies that see their budget go down
Defense: $525.4 billion, down from $530.5 billion.
Homeland Security: $39.5 billion, a decrease of $191 million.
EPA: $8.3 billion, a $105 million decrease.
Agriculture: $23 billion, down by $700 million.
NASA: $17.7 billion, a $59 million decrease.
Justice: $27.1 billion, down from $27.2 billion.
Labor: $11.9 billion, down from $13.2 billion.
Treasury: 12.6 billion, down from $13.1 billion.
Right Wing Pushes to Privatize Airport Screening Function, Risking Terrorist Attacks: Testifying before Congress on TSA’s Screening Partnership Program (SPP) on Thursday, AFGE President John Gage said the right wing’s pressure to privatize the screening function at more airports will put the country at risk. President Gage reminded members of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security that opting out of the federal screener system means opting in to the lowest bidder and risking repeating the same tragedy of 9/11. President Gage went on to say that SPP is not about creating jobs like the topic of the hearing implied. TSA has created almost 50,000 jobs. These are good jobs, although the pay is still low and working conditions need to improve. But moving these jobs to the private sector means handing over the country’s security function to the lowest bidder whose bottom line is profit. There is no contracting out of the Secret Service, FBI, Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection Officers, or the Capitol Police. TSA should be no different.
“Private contractors must, by their very nature, keep their eyes on the bottom line,” President Gage said. “That consideration cannot help but bleed over into decisions on staffing, training, recruitment, retention and operations. There is no doubt that TSA and its federal screening workforce have protected our nation from a repeat of the horror of 9/11. Rather than calling for the dismantling of an agency that is living up to its mission, despite constant challenges, proponents of private screeners should instead work to empower federal screeners to do their jobs better. Only a well-trained, well-paid, fully empowered professional public workforce can provide the protection the American people need.”
Right wing lawmakers last week pushed through the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that forces TSA to consider privatizing the screening function at more airports. Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. John Mica and is expected to become law soon, TSA is required to reconsider the SPP applications to opt out of using professional federal screeners and opt in to the private screening program, the very model that brought us the tragic events of 9/11. If TSA denies an application, the agency is required to submit to Congress a detailed report that backs up its decision within 120 days.
Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” as Congressman John Sarbanes praises the work of federal employees. The show, which originally aired on Friday, Feb. 10, is now available on demand. Sarbanes lauded the continued dedication and commitment of federal workers despite a contentious political environment in Washington. Sarbanes went on to discuss campaign finance reform and his support for the creation of a public financing system in federal elections. Congressman John Yarmuth and Newsweek and Daily Beast contributor Eleanor Clift then addressed the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Yarmuth detailed his efforts to educate constituents in Kentucky’s 3rd District about ACA while Clift talked about the political implications of health care reform. Lastly, National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare President and CEO Max Richtman shared ideas to improve Social Security and Medicare and also addressed the valuable work of SSA employees.
Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online at www.federalnewsradio.com.
Quote of the Week
Political Action Committee and Issue Mobilization Director Bob Nicklas on the right wing’s war on federal employees and the middle class:
“We need to fight back because they smell blood. They’re coming after us. We’re not in a battle; we’re in a war. And we can’t win a war by being polite.”