Monday, June 18, 2012

AFGE Week in Review - June 15, 2012

June 15, 2012
Hundreds Rally in D.C. to Protest Downgrades of Lowest Paid VA Workers: Richard Fleming, an Army veteran and a GS-5 surgical technician at the VA hospital in Temple, Texas, came to Washington D.C. this week to ask his employer why he and his co-workers are being downgraded to GS-4. He has been with the VA for 20 years and is proud of what he does to serve other veterans. 
“When I found out that management thinks I don’t deserve to keep the same pay for doing the same work I have been doing for so long with such pride and dedication, I am angry, depressed,” he said. “I go to bed with these thoughts every single night. I keep asking myself the same questions over and over. Why are they doing this? What have I done? What have my co-workers done to deserve this? When I got out of the Army, I spent six years trying to get a job at the Temple VA. I’ve mentioned I began working in the kitchen and I’m proud to have worked my way up into the current position. No one gave me my GS-5. I earned it.”
Fleming was among the 500 AFGE members and activists who gathered in front of VA headquarters in Washington, D.C. before marching over to Lafayette Square calling on the VA to immediately stop the arbitrary downgrades of 50,000 of the lowest-paid employees across the country. VA’s bogus claim that it’s trying to “modernize” position descriptions is more than a slap in the face to the employees who themselves are veterans or have dedicated decades of their lives to serving our veterans. At the Temple VA hospital, where the first and largest re-classification took place, three out of four employees who have been downgraded are veterans. This cruel action is ongoing while highest-paid management employees are enjoying their pay. 
“I’m beginning to believe that VA’s motto now is honor veterans with dignity and respect unless they work here,” said Mike King, a medical equipment support specialist at the Nashville VA hospital who served in the Air Force active and Reserve for 20 years.
“Does it make sense to downgrade positions at the bottom of the pay scale?” asked AFGENational VA Council President Alma Lee. “I wonder how many VA dollars has the department spent and will likely spend in the future on the classification process. Through these downgrades, the department has sent a very clear message to VA employees that dedication and hard work is not valued.”
Lee said the council has tried to work with the VA the past two years but has been given conflicting statements. “Well, here we are today at their door step to let them know we will no longer be ignored,” she said. “This is not the end of the fight but just the beginning.”
Also speaking at the rally were Marlon Askew, a telephone operator at the Temple VA hospital and an Army veteran, AFGE President John Gage, National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox, NVP for Women and Fair Practices Augusta Thomas, and Vietnam Veterans of America Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs Richard Weidman.
Federal Employees Fired for Failing to Register for U.S. Draft Can’t Appeal to District Court: The Supreme Court this week ruled 6-3 that federal employees terminated for failing to sign up for the Selective Service as required by law cannot skip the appeal process prescribed under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA). Bypassing the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals as required under the CSRA, a group of employees terminated for failing to register for the Selective Service took their case to a federal district court, arguing that the law that requires their termination was unconstitutional. The district court took the case, but the government appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which bounced the case back to the district court and ordered it to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. The First Circuit Court of Appeals held that under the CSRA, it has jurisdiction over these kinds of issues, including challenging constitutionality of a law. The Supreme Court upheld the appeals court’s decision.
DoD Freezes All Conferences Costing More Than $100,000: Following a directive from President Obama in May calling on agencies to reduce travel costs by 30 percent in 2013, the Defense Department last week ordered its components to freeze all conferences costing more than $100,000 pending a review to make sure the conferences “significantly further the department’s mission.” 
"Each component or service shall suspend incurring any new obligations for conferences to which it is not yet committed until it has completed its review," Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter wrote in a June 3 memo.

Bills Introduced to Bring Jobs Home: Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey have introduced companion bills that would eliminate some tax incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas and replace them with tax incentives to bring jobs back to the U.S. To support the bills, the AFL-CIO has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the issue and is urging union members to do a few things: plan a public event in front of the company to protest the outsource; urge their elected officials to support the bills; write and OpEd or a letter to the editor supporting the bills; and order “Bring Jobs Home” stickers so they can wear them to July 4th parades and picnics.

Largest Health Insurance Company to Keep Key Provisions in Healthcare Law: Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision expected this month, UnitedHealthCare announced this week it will keep key parts of the new health care law popular among consumers: the provision that keep young adults on their parents’ plans until they turn 26; the provision that provides preventive care without co-payments, the provision that streamlines the appeal process, the provision that prohibits putting lifetime limits on insurance payouts; and the provision that prohibit insurers from dropping people when they get sick, except when people intentionally lied on an insurance application.

“The protections we are voluntarily extending are good for people’s health, promote broader access to quality care and contribute to helping control rising health care costs,” Stephen Hemsley, president and chief executive of UnitedHealth Group, said. “These provisions are compatible with our mission and continue our operating practices.”

Register Now and Save: AFGE Regional Training in Indianapolis: Join leaders and activists from District 6, 7, 8 and 9, at the AFGE Regional Training conference in downtown Indianapolis on July 16-20. The conference will be held in conjunction with the 42nd Annual Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration 2012. A new course on Representation for TSA will be offered at this event. The deadline for the discounted hotel reservations at the Omni Severin Hotel is Monday, June 25 and members who register for the conference by June $29 will save $50 off the regular registration fee of $250. For complete registration and conference information, click here, or go to 

Op-Ed of the Week: Christina Romer, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, argues in the New York Times that the Federal Reserve should do more to help the economy. 

“The Fed is the only plausible source of immediate help for the American economy. It was set up as an independent body precisely so that somebody can do what’s right when politicians can’t or won’t. I find a related argument even more frustrating: that the Fed shouldn’t act because Congress wouldn’t like it and might retaliate. This argument exposes the important truth that the Fed is only as independent as Congress lets it be. But it also raises a key question: what are Fed policy makers saving their independence for? If rescuing millions of Americans from the torment of unemployment isn’t a reason to risk their independence, what is?...The policy-making committee could adopt the proposal of Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, that the Fed pledge to keep rates near zero until unemployment is down to 7 percent or inflation has risen to 3 percent.”

This Week in Labor History: June 13, 1884 – Congress creates a Bureau of Labor, under the Interior Department.  It later became independent as a Department of Labor without executive status in the Department of Commerce and Labor. In 1913, it became the Department of Labor we know today.
Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” to hear Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.) discuss the value of public service. The show, which originally aired on Friday, June 15, is now available on demand. Connolly, speaking from the recent Excellence in Government Conference, addressed the important work of federal employees and value of public service to the country. Also appearing from the conference were Hooks Book Events President Perry Hooks and Steve Shapiro, author of “Best Practices are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition.” But first, Executive Editor Isaiah J. Poole previewed the upcoming Take Back the American Dream Conference June 18 – 20. Poole discussed the need for employees to have a voice in the workplace and also addressed key issues ahead of the 2012 elections including job creation, women’s rights and restoring the middle class.
Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online at of the Week
Mike King, a medical equipment support specialist at the Nashville VA hospital who served in the Air Force active and Reserve for 20 years, on the VA’s initiative to downgrade 50,000 of the lowest-paid employees across the country:
“I’m beginning to believe that VA’s motto now is honor veterans with dignity and respect unless they work here.” 

American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO 80 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001 | Tel. (202) 737-8700 | Fax (202) 639-6492

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