Friday, September 14, 2012

AFGE Week in Review - Sept 14, 2012

Sept. 14, 2012

House Approves Stopgap Bill with Extension of Federal Pay Freeze: The House this week voted to approve a short-term continuing resolution that would freeze federal pay and fund the government at about current levels until the end of March. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.

AFGE National President J. David Cox, Sr. denounced the extension of the pay freeze, saying it's not fair that federal employees are being asked once again to pay for the financial mess they didn't cause.

NIH Doctor Named Federal Employee of the Year: Lynne Mofenson, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with the National Institutes of Health, has been named Federal Employee of the Year by the Partnership for Public Service for her work to prevent the mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Her role in pioneering the use of a drug to stop the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies during the 80s and 90s have saved countless lives and today the number of HIV cases in American children have dropped from 1,600 to only 150 a year. Clinical trials have been expanded to other countries and it is estimated that approximately 200,000 infant HIV infections were prevented last year alone.

Mofenson is one of the nine federal employees who won Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies), the prestigious awards that honor public servants who are making high-impact contributions to the health, safety and well-being of Americans.

New Book Sheds Light on Hidden Successes of Stimulus: “Stimulus” has become a dirty word in Washington. One year after the Recovery Act was signed into law, the percentage of Americans who believed it had created any jobs was lower than the percentage of Americans who believed Elvis was still alive (6% v. 7%). But according to award-winning TIME journalist Michael Grunwald, Americans got it all wrong.

After extensive research and interviews of more than 200 people from both sides of the aisle, he argues in his new book “The New New Deal” that the stimulus bill that was signed into law a few months after Wall Street had blown up the entire financial system is one of the most important and least understood pieces of legislation in the history of this country. Contrary to popular belief, the $800 billion bill actually stopped a terrifying free fall into a second Depression and prevented massive states and local governments' layoffs and cuts.  California, for example, would have defaulted without the stimulus. Top economic forecasters agreed that the stimulus had saved or created about 2.5 million jobs. (According to the Congressional Budget Office, the figure was even higher – 3.3 million jobs) Even though the unemployment rate was still high, millions of people would have been unemployed if it was not for the stimulus. The stimulus also increased the GDP at least 2 percentage points, the difference between contraction and growth. It lifted seven million Americans above the poverty line and made 32 million poor Americans less poor.

Even though many governors, state legislatures, and members of Congress publicly trashed the stimulus as another big government spending, almost all of them took the money. Texas Governor Rick Perry even tried to use some of it to fix his mansion. When Arizona Senator Jon Kyl condemned the stimulus on a talk show, the White House wrote to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and asked which stimulus funds she didn’t want. She wanted them all. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford refused to take the money but his state legislators did and denounced him for not doing enough for the people as South Carolina had the third-highest jobless rate in the country. Sanford later told Grunwald that that period of time made him feel very “lonely” and hinted it may have influenced his decision to “hike the Appalachian trail”. 

The stimulus has changed America in so many ways. It computerized the medical system, which will prevent deaths caused by drug interactions and doctors’ bad handwriting. It funded the first bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It funded the most extensive infrastructure investments since Eisenhower’s interstates. It launched our transition to a low-carbon economy by, among other things, creating the world’s largest wind farm and America’s first refineries for advanced biofuels. It created a battery-manufacturing industry for electric vehicles. It created a new cutting edge-energy research agency that attracted Silicon Valley brainiacs and MIT mad scientists, the kind of agency that Q from the James Bond movies would want to work. So besides stopping the recession, the stimulus has laid out a foundation to make America the world’s leader in science and technology.

If the stimulus did what it was supposed to do, why has it become an $800 billion joke? There are four reasons, according to Grunwald.

1) The stimulus was oversold as a short-term job creator, economic fix but undersold as a long-term foundation for major changes. The economic situation was so much worse than most economists predicted at the time and jobs continued to disappear regardless.  The administration made the mistake of predicting that unemployment would stay below 8 percent with a footnote that there could be significant margins of error, but nobody remembered the footnotes. Unemployment surged past 8 percent even before the stimulus money started to flow. The White House knew the stimulus wouldn’t be able to re-create all the jobs that had been lost, but it couldn’t get more money from Congress. The stimulus did stop the recession, but it was hard to get credit for disaster prevention especially when the economy hasn't picked up as fast as many wish it would be. 

2) Many in Congress were determined to block everything. They trashed the stimulus as ineffective and distorted facts and made up ridiculous charges. “Mob museums,” for example, were never in the stimulus. An alleged $248 million for “government furniture” was actually a project to build a new Homeland Security headquarters. They falsely claimed the stimulus was full of waste, pork and fraud.  With that magnitude of money, experts had predicted that 5-7 percent would be lost to fraud, but investigators have found only 0.001 percent in losses. After spending a year investigating the loan process for Solyndra, independent investigators found no evidence of political interference or wrongdoing. Solyndra was a just startup that went bad. The company in fact was about to get a loan from the Bush administration but didn't in time.  
3) When many in Congress trashed the stimulus as big government spending, many argued, correctly, that it was too small, which sent another message that the stimulus was not effective, fanning the raging flames. Despite criticism that the stimulus was too small, it was in fact 50 percent bigger than the entire New Deal in constant dollars. And it was not the White House's fault that it wasn't bigger. They wanted it to be bigger but couldn't because of resistance in Congress. A small $56 billion stimulus was rejected in September 2008 and they were asking for $800 billion. To get 60 votes in the Senate, they had to settle for the lower number.
4) When members of Congress from both sides of the aisles said the stimulus was a mess, the national media, which were not interested in public policy to begin with, just ran with it. In the era of gotcha journalism, the media were not interested in reporting on the thousands of programs that are working. They were not interested in reporting on jobs that were saved or created or things that didn't go wrong. Like Walter Cronkite used to say, it was a cat that hadn't run away.        

Decline in Union Membership Hurts Middle Class Wages:  Although AFGE remains one of the fastest growing unions in the country, a general decline in unionization nationally and the erosion of unions' bargaining power have weakened the middle class as it has lowered wages for both unionized and non-unionized workers. In a new report recently released by the Economic Policy Institute, the percentage of unionized workers has continued to decline, from 26.7 percent in 1973 to 13.1 percent last year. From 1973 to 2007, declining unionization was responsible for a 34 percent wage gap between white and blue collar and also between high-school and college educated male workers and 20 percent for female workers.

“Unions reduce wage inequalities because they raise wages more at the bottom and in the middle of the wage scale than at the top,” said EPI President Lawrence Mishel. “It is unsurprising that efforts to weaken unions have exacerbated both wage inequality and the divergence between overall productivity and the compensation of the typical worker.”

According to the report, Unions, Inequity, and Faltering Middle Class Wages, unionized workers make 13.6 percent more than those who are not unionized.  Unionized workers receive 14.3 percent more paid time off. They also are 28.2 percent more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance and 53.9 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions than non-unionized workers.

AFGE Stands in Solidarity with Striking Chicago Teachers: The AFGE National Executive Council on Friday approved a resolution to support the striking Chicago teachers as they are fighting reduced staffing, larger class sizes and arbitrary teacher evaluations, all of which can have a destructive impact on teaching and learning.

“The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO recognizes that an attack on any group of workers, particularly public sector employees, is an attack on all of us,” the resolution reads. “Therefore be it resolved that AFGE fully supports the teachers, education support professionals, and other members of the Chicago Teachers Union on strike in Chicago, Illinois. While a strike is never the preferred outcome, we stand with our fellow union members as they take a stand for teachers and for students on the fundamental issues facing public education in America.”

About 28,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Unions are on strike this week following months of negotiations that left the teachers feeling disrespected with no choice and tools to help their students succeed. The strike started on Monday and was the first strike in 25 years.

“This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told reporters. "Further, there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control."

A new poll shows the public supports the teachers' strike. Negotiations are still ongoing and latest news reports show positive signs that an agreement could be reached soon.

On Tuesday, D.C. teachers and union staff wore red to demonstrate their support for the striking teachers. If you want to show your solidarity with the Chicago teachers, send expressions of support by posting a message on the union's Facebook page. Letters can be sent to: Karen Lewis, President, Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1 Attention: Audrey May 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 400 Chicago, IL 60654. Donations to the CTU Solidarity Fund can be mailed to the address above or made online.

VA’s Ability to Comply with Executive Order Hindered by Its Destructive Whistleblower Policies:AFGE lauds the President’s Aug. 31 executive order calling for improved access to mental health care services for veterans and their families, including additional mental health staff to ensure that all veterans in crisis receive care within 24 hours. However, as the largest employee representative of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health professionals, AFGE is deeply concerned that the department may not be able to follow through on this directive in view of the department’s continued harassment of employees who speak up for patients’ needs.

“The President’s executive order goes to great lengths to improve the mental health care services available to our nation’s heroes, but we are extremely concerned that the VA will be unable to deliver on these standards,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox. “We are currently fighting for whistleblower protections for a post-traumatic stress disorder specialist at the Wilmington, Del. VA facility who continues to face intense retaliation for testifying before Congress about mismanagement and lack of mental health care access for vets. At a time when thousands of our men and women are returning from the battlefield in need of mental health services, we cannot afford to silence VA employees who speak up for their patients.”

Cox has written a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking for his immediate action in ending the retaliatory actions taken against psychologist Dr. Michelle Washington. On the eve of her Senate testimony on understaffing and improper accounting measures regarding PTSD treatment of veterans, Dr. Washington had her personnel evaluation changed and lowered. Thereafter, she had her duties radically changed and veterans have had to travel much further for PTSD evaluations. Her fellow union members also have faced other adverse actions as part of what appears to be a coordinated pattern of retaliation for bringing to light mismanagement at the VA.

“The VA must make meaningful changes in eradicating agency mismanagement, whistleblower retaliation and take strides in supporting its workforce providing world-class care to our nation’s veterans,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. “The President’s executive order looks to increase the number of mental health care professionals at the VA, but this cannot be done if the agency continues down this path of employee intimidation and misappropriation of vital resources.”

Will OMB Ask the Richest Contractors to Make Sacrifices? The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA)  recently ran a piece by AFGE National President J. David Cox, on  the union’s concerns that federal contractors have yet to pay their fair share in efforts to balance the  federal budget.  The following is an excerpt:

“The total sacrifice by federal employees works out to at least $103-$105 billion over ten years. Of course, this does not include the massive downsizing in federal employment that we expect will result from the discretionary spending caps in the ruinous Budget Control Act.  No other discrete group of Americans has been asked to sacrifice more than federal employees—whether they be Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) nursing assistants who care for our wounded warriors, Border Patrol agents who guard our borders, depot workers who repair sophisticated military hardware, labor inspectors who keep our workplaces safe, or Social Security workers who ensure that our elderly receive the benefits they deserve.  No sacrifices, even remotely comparable, have been asked of contractors.

Currently, contractors in the Department of Defense (DoD) can charge taxpayers up to $760,000 annually for the compensation of a single employee. For the non-DoD agencies, only the top five most lavishly compensated employees at a contractor are bound by that cap; all other contractor employees can be compensated in excess of the cap. Since 1998, the compensation cap applicable to government contracts has more than doubled, from an egregious $340,650 in 1998 to an unconscionable $693,951 in 2010, which was then raised to its current obscene level in April. Over the last dozen years, the level of taxpayer-reimbursement to contractors for their compensation has risen 53% faster than the rate of inflation. The April raise was a 10% increase for contractors—at the same time military personnel received a mere 1.7% pay raise and federal employees received none at all. Of course, contractors often actually make millions of dollars per year because their firms richly supplement the already generous compensation provided by taxpayers with fees and profits earned on federal contracts.” 

Read the entire piece here.

This Week in Labor History: Sept. 5, 2007 – In a historic decision and a major victory for AFGE and TSA officers, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision when it ruled that John Gavello, an Oakland TSO, had the right to sue TSA for violation of his constitutional rights, including the rights of free speech and association. Gavello was fired in 2004 for engaging in union activities. After the court decision, the question of unionization at TSA was resolved and membership within AFGE skyrocketed.

This Week’s Tweet: “The issue isn't the size of government but who govt is for -- large corporations, Wall Street, the privileged and powerful, OR the people.” ~ @RBReich

Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” as AFGE members speak out against federal budget cuts. The show, which originally aired on Friday, Sept. 7, is now available on demand. AFGE Social Security Administration (SSA) Council 220 President Witold Skwierczynskidiscussed the impact budget cuts, office closures and reduced hours have on public service. Skwierczynski also provided new details of AFGE’s contract with SSA. Carolyn Federoff, executive vice president of the union’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Council 222, addressed the Ryan budget proposal and how it would affect HUD and other government agencies. Federoff then offered solutions to reduce the federal deficit.  Lastly, former AFGE National PresidentBobby Harnage discussed his proudest accomplishments as AFGE president and reflected on his career as a federal employee.

Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online at For more information, please visit

Quote of the Week
EPI President Lawrence Mishel on the impact of a decline in unionization on middle class wages:
“Unions reduce wage inequalities because they raise wages more at the bottom and in the middle of the wage scale than at the top. It is unsurprising that efforts to weaken unions have exacerbated both wage inequality and the divergence between overall productivity and the compensation of the typical worker.”

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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