Saturday, July 7, 2012

AFGE Week in Review - July 6, 2012

July 6, 2012
VA Suspends Employee Downgrades: In a major victory for AFGE and VA employees, the Department of Veterans Affairs this week ordered an immediate suspension of all downgrades of employees related to its reclassification program. The only downgrades that are allowed to continue are those associated with unacceptable performance and inappropriate conducts. VA has established a Classification Oversight Working Group to “create options on how to balance position classification standards and equal pay for equal work with the potential number of resulting changes to lower grade.” The group will decide which downgrades will be allowed to continue. AFGE immediately submitted a request for joint labor-management participation in efforts to develop an action plan for addressing classification issues as well as the fate of pending downgrades.
“VA has finally heard the VA Council’s concerns on these cruel and arbitrary downgrades,” AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee said. “But the fight is not over: we have to make sure that every impacted employee gets relief and that we are at the table along with other key stakeholders to ensure the creation of a fair, consistent classification process that makes the VA health care system stronger, not weaker.”

More than 500 AFGE members and activists last month 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.
“I am so proud of AFGE today,” AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox said. “We took our concerns to Congress and the public and we were heard loud and clear: stop balancing budgets on the backs of veterans and low wage employees, and start working with, not against, AFGE to build a strong VA workforce.”
Obama Threatens to Veto Spending Bill That Doesn’t Give Feds Pay Raise: The Obama administration this week threatened to veto the House version of the fiscal 2013 Financial Services appropriations bill because it doesn’t contain a provision giving federal employees a pay raise. The president recommended a 0.5 percent raise for federal employees in his budget proposal earlier this year. The Senate version is also silent on the raise.
“A permanent pay freeze is neither sustainable nor desirable,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement. “The administration encourages the Congress to support the proposed 0.5 percent pay raise for civilian employees, while continuing the pay freeze for senior political officials.”
Phased Retirement Passes Congress: The House and the Senate last week approved the conference report on a transportation authorization bill, H.R. 4348, with a provision that allows federal employees to ease into retirement by working part-time for several months or a few years. The semi-retirement option is available for retirement-eligible employees with agency approval. Except for workers at the U.S. Postal Service, employees who are phasing into retirement are required to spend at least 20 percent of their working hours mentoring and training their replacements, which the government hopes would help lessen the brain drain problem.

Michigan Lawmaker Presses for Passage of Anti-Safe Prison Bill:At a hearing held by the House Committee on Small Business's subcommittee on contracting last week, Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan pushed the panel to pass his bill that would devastate the federal prison inmate work program and potentially put the lives of correctional officers and other inmates at risk. The Federal Prison Industries (FPI) helps keep about 13,500 inmates occupied and less likely to engage in illegal and gang activities. It provides job skills and incentives to encourage good behaviors. Inmates who participate in the work program are 35 percent less likely to re-commit a crime. Products produced under this program such as furniture and clothing are purchased by federal agencies. Inmates also pay back $1.6 million in fines and other legal obligations from their earnings. Despite its many benefits, Huizenga’s bill, H.R. 3634, would devastate the entire program by ending its mandatory source preference and require it to compete for all federal contracts except in very limited circumstances. Without the program, federal prisons will become even more dangerous for correctional officers, inmates, and the communities outside the prison walls. 

FPI Deputy Assistant Director Phil Sibal said FPI’s negative impact on federal contractors is exaggerated. He said the program creates jobs for small businesses by spending 54 percent of its budget on raw materials, for example.

Indeed, FPI’s total sales represent only a very small percentage of the total federal procurement market. Its total sales in 2007, for example, were less than one fifth of 1% of the total federal agency procurement market. Its office furniture sales in 2005 were only 1.39 percent of the total U.S. office furniture market. Current laws also already mandate that both DoD and civilian agencies use competitive procedures and make sure that the FPI products are comparable to those available from the private sector in terms of price, quality, and time of delivery. FPI has already been hugely downsized as pro-business lawmakers have over the years passed laws to curtail it. Non-defense agencies now are not required to buy from the program if the program has more than a 20 percent market share in an industry. The Defense Department no longer has to buy from the program if the program has more than 5 percent market share in an industry. As a result, 43 FPI factories have been closed or downsized while 16,000 fewer inmates participated in the program than it should have been without those restrictions. 

AFGE Calls for Independent Study before Merging of VA Regional Offices: Following a news report that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is planning to cut regional offices known as Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN), AFGE today announced its support for veterans groups’ proposal calling for an independent study before the reorganization. It was reported that VA plans to cut VISNs in order to “head off” a pending bill introduced by Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina that would reduce the number of VISNs from 21 to 12. The bill, S. 3084, would also cap the number of employees for each of the 12 offices at 65.
AFGE opposes S. 3084 because it creates a new bureaucracy (new “Regional Support Centers”); gives VA more leeway to outsource care and related services to non-VA private entities; and gives VA more opportunity to weaken the link between Medical Centers and other VA health care components just like under the previous administration’s plan to shift away from standalone VA Medical Centers. Burr’s bill also provides no role for employee representatives in elimination of duplication.
Wal-Mart, Always Low Wages, Turns 50: Anti-worker retail giant Wal-Mart turned 50 this week. The first Wal-Mart store opened in Rogers, Ark. on July 2, 1962. By 2012, the company had 8,500 stores in 15 countries, under 55 different names, employing more than 2 million people. It is known in the U.S. and most of the other countries in which it operates for low wages and extreme anti-unionism.

This Week in Labor History: July 5, 1934 – Five thousand workers fight 1,000 police, scabs, and National Guard troops as employers try to break the longshore strike in San Francisco. Two strikers were killed, 109 people injured. The incident, known as “Bloody Thursday,” led to a general strike. The longshore strike was eventually arbitrated and the workers won their major demands.
Inside Government:  Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” for more on the upcoming 2012 elections. The show, which originally aired on Friday, June 29, is now available on demand. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Rebuild the Dream President and Co-founder Van Jones, speaking from the recent Take Back the American Dream Conference, discussed labor’s role leading up to Election Day and the importance of the elections to the middle class. Schakowsky then celebrated the work of public employees while Jones discussed the need for Americans to come together to solve the nation’s problems. Former Clinton White House senior staffer Bob Weiner then discussed his recent op-ed, “The Myth of the Postal Service’s Finances” and the role of government and public service. Lastly, AFGE Voter Protection Coordinator Mark Vinson detailed the union’s voter protection campaign and the need for all Americans to have an opportunity to vote.
Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online

Quote of the Week

AFGE’s National VA Council President Alma Lee on VA’s suspension of employee downgrades:

“VA has finally heard the VA Council’s concerns on these cruel and arbitrary downgrades. But the fight is not over: we have to make sure that every impacted employee gets relief and that we are at the table along with other key stakeholders to ensure the creation of a fair, consistent classification process that makes the VA health care system stronger, not weaker.”

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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