Saturday, December 1, 2012

AFGE Week in Review - Nov. 30, 2012

Nov. 30, 2012

AFGE Leads Coalition Effort to Avoid Further Cuts to Federal Wages: AFGE is leading a coalition of more than two dozen groups, representing nearly 5 million active and retired federal and postal workers, that are calling on Congress to keep employee wages and benefits off the table during the fiscal cliff negotiations.

The organizations, all members of the Federal-Postal Coalition, signed an open letter to Congress initiated by AFGE that will be published next Monday in Politico newspaper, which is distributed to every lawmaker on Capitol Hill.

The advertisement seeks to remind lawmakers that federal employees are the only group of Americans who have personally sacrificed to help reduce the nation’s deficit. Federal employees have not received a pay raise since January 2010, while federal employees hired after the end of this year will pay four times more for their pensions than current workers.

“To date, middle-class federal workers have endured $103 billion in cuts to their wages and pensions over 10 years. That amounts to a $50,000 pay cut to every employee,” the ad states. “These dedicated and hardworking civil servants simply can’t afford another round of cuts to their pay and benefits. It’s time for others to contribute.”

The ad is the latest in a series of efforts by AFGE and other federal employee organizations to protect federal employee wages and benefits from further cuts. The Federal-Postal Coalition sent a letter to each member of Congress on Nov. 19, detailing the substantial sacrifices made by federal workers thus far.

AFGE Urges White House, Congress to Address Morale Issues in Government: Pay freezes, slashed budgets, threats of shutdowns, and the right wing’s public relations war against government workers are taking a toll on federal employees’ morale. According to the 2012 employee view point survey results issued last week by the Office of Personnel Management, federal employees are less likely to recommend their agency as a good place to work. The scores they gave on job, pay and organization dropped three percentage points from 66% in 2011 to 63% this year. Of the 37 departments and large agencies, all but four saw their satisfaction scores slip. The Office of Management and Budget is the only agency with higher scores compared with last year. 

Employee engagement scores, which measure things like effective leadership, the opportunity for employees to learn and grow on the job, work that provides meaning, also went down two percentage points from 67% last year to 65% this year. Scores federal employees gave their immediate supervisors went down on all but two of the 11 effective supervision items. Federal employees also gave lower scores to agency leadership in all but one leadership item.

“OPM can now confirm that which we already know. The negative impact of the two and a half year federal pay freeze, using federal employees as Congress’ go-to ATM as offsets for other programs, and the deteriorating workplace conditions caused by declining agency budgets have become too much to bear,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “These are the things that do not promote a well-trained and capable workforce. It is essential that the fiscal cliff negotiations do not increase the sacrifices federal employees have already made to deficit reduction – over $103 billion so far – from pay freezes to tax increases on their pensions.”

Despite pay and morale issues, federal employees remain committed. More than 90 percent of the 687,000 workers surveyed, the largest sample yet, believe their jobs are essential and they are willing to put in an extra effort to get the job done. NP Cox pointed to the example of Superstorm Sandy where employees at FEMA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and several other federal agencies played a crucial role in providing relief to the millions of Americans affected by the storm. 

Washington Area Lawmakers Want Feds off Deficit Talks: A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Washington, D.C. area said federal employees have sacrificed enough towards deficit reduction and should not be asked to chip in again in the ongoing discussions about spending and deficit. They highlighted the $103 billion already contributed by federal workers towards debt reduction – $60 billion from the 2011 and 2012 pay freezes; $28 billion from the delay of the 2013 raise of 0.5% until April; and $15 billion from the 2.3% increase in employees’ retirement contributions for those hired after 2012.

“We respectfully request that you carefully consider the implications that any proposed agreement would have on these Americans so that it reflects the substantial budget savings that the federal workforce has contributed thus far,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va.; Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; Frank Wolf, R-Va.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Gerald Connolly, D-Va.; Robert Wittman, R-Va.; Donna Edwards, D-Md.; John Sarbanes, D-Md.; and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. signed the letter.

CEOs Calling for Cuts to Social Security, Medicare Have on Average $9 Million in Retirement Funds Each: Cue The Grinch’s theme song. The filthy rich CEOs of America’s largest corporations who are calling for cuts to social safety net programs that most Americans rely on have on average retirement assets of $9.1 million, according to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies. Honeywell CEO David Cote, who has been one of the loudest voices calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, is the Fix the Debt CEO with the largest pension fund -- $78 million, enough to provide him a $428,000 check every month if he retires at 65. In contrast, the average monthly Social Security check for retirees is $1,237.

While keeping their own pension coffers full, most of these CEOs have fallen behind in funding their own employees’ pension funds. Of the 71 publicly held Fix the Debt member companies, 41 provide their workers with employee pension funds. All but two have underfunded their worker pension funds by $103 billion, or about $2.5 billion on average. General Electric is the Fix the Debt member corporation with the largest deficit: $22 billion. 

“These CEOs paint a stark picture of hypocrisy,” said Scott Klinger, a report co-author. “They are feathering their own retirement nests while trying to deny ordinary Americans — including their own employees — their hard-earned nest eggs. They’re simply taking advantage of the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ to push the same old agenda of more corporate tax breaks while shifting costs onto the poor and elderly. Although they have not remedied their own internal pension fund debts, the Fix the Debt CEOs say they have the solution for our national debt problems, which would include cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

If you haven’t heard, Fix the Debt is a new CEO-led coalition that calls for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid so that the savings can be used to fund their tax breaks. Earlier this month, the Institute for Policy Studies conducted an analysis and found that Fix the Debt member companies stand to gain as much as $134 billion from one of their proposals – a territorial tax system that would permanently exempt from federal income taxes their overseas earnings brought back to the U.S.

Majority of Americans Back Raising Taxes on the Rich: According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 60 percent of Americans support higher taxes on income over $250,000 – the proposal President Barack Obama is pushing. An identical 60 percent of voters in the presidential election earlier this month told exit pollers they backed higher taxes on income over $250,000. 

President Obama Signs Bill Strengthening Whistleblower Protections for Feds: President Barack Obama on Nov. 27 signed into law the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that provides better protections for federal employees who expose mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse, or specific danger to public health and safety.

Among many improvements, the bill, S. 743, strengthens protections for federal employees against retaliation when they disclose workplace wrongdoing. It restores the Office of Special Counsel’s ability to seek disciplinary actions against supervisors who retaliate. It allows more federal courts to hear appeals of whistleblower cases and creates the position of whistleblower ombudsman in agency Offices of Inspector General to educate federal workers and managers about whistleblower protections. The bill also extends coverage to Transportation Security Officers.

The bill passed the House and Senate in September and November respectively. The provision granting coverage to TSOs takes effect immediately and the rest will take effect Dec. 27.

“We applaud the bipartisan, collaborative work of members of Congress, a diverse coalition of worker advocates and good government groups, and the Obama Administration resulting in the bill signed into law today,” said AFGE Legislative Director Beth Moten. “The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act provides many of the changes in law necessary to protect federal workers when they come forward to report fraud, waste, and wrongdoing in the workplace and to hold managers accountable when they retaliate. AFGE is especially pleased that the law applies to TSOs and provides them with the same whistleblower protections as other federal workers.”

AFGE, Coalition Groups Ask Congress to Put Cap on Contractor Pay: AFGE and government accountability groups recently wrote to chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Financial Services Appropriations subcommittees, urging them to lower the outrageous amount of compensation contractors are allowed to charge taxpayers for a single employee. If lawmakers are concerned about federal spending, the cap should be lowered from $763,029 to $400,000, as included in Sec. 747 of the Senate version of the 2013 Financial Services Appropriations Act. Contractors can pay their employees whatever they like out of their own profits; the provision only limits the amount that can be reimbursed by taxpayers.

Since 1998, the compensation cap on government contracts has more than doubled. Earlier this year the cap was bumped up 10 percent while military personnel who give their lives for this country got a mere increase of less than 2 percent and federal employees’ pay has been frozen for two years.

“Due to concerns about both fiscal responsibility and fairness, we believe it is important to reduce the compensation priced and/or reimbursed under U.S. government prime and subcontracts to federal contractor employees,” the coalition wrote. “With budget cuts and sequestration looming, it is fiscally irresponsible to allow private contractors to charge escalation and exorbitant rates to the government.”

The Nov. 13 letter was signed by AFGE, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, NTEU, International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees Union, Economic Policy Institute, Project in Government Oversight, Center for Economic and Policy research, In the Public Interest, National Employment Law Project, and OMB Watch.

Pay Freeze, Lack of Financial Incentives to Blame for FDA’s Inability to Attract Doctors, Scientists:Federal pay freezes, the lack of raises and bonuses and budget uncertainties have all contributed to the FDA’s inability to attract scientists and doctors, according to a new report by the Partnership for Public Service. Even though 48 percent of FDA full-time employees earn more than $100,000 a year, these scientists and doctors can earn a lot more working in the private sector.

Besides the lack of financial incentives, some of the main reasons that the FDA has not been able to attract the best and brightest include the slow hiring process, the lack of a clear career path for employees and the inadequate public outreach to academic institutions, private sector and other talent sources.

Want Fewer People on Welfare? Raise Minimum Wage: Retail industry is rapidly growing and over the next decade it will become the second largest source of new jobs in the U.S. Yet more than 1 million retail workers and their families live in or near poverty. According to new analysis by Demos, a typical retail sales person makes just $21,000 a year. Cashiers earn even less – $18,500. If the nation’s largest retail companies pay their employees at least $25,000 a year, 734,000 people would be lifted out of poverty. More than 5 million workers would see an increase in their take-home pay. Wage increase would also generate 100,000-130,000 new jobs as these workers would have extra cash to spend on goods and services that were out of reach before. Their purchasing power would generate $4 to $5 billion in additional annual sales for the sector the following year. If retailers pass on to consumers half of the cost of a wage increase, shoppers would pay less than 15 cent per shopping trip.

“The continued dominance of low wages in this sector weakens our nation’s capacity to boost living standards and economic growth,” says the report entitled Retail’s Hidden Potential: How Rising Wages Would benefit Workers, the Industry and the Overall Economy. “Retail’s low-wage employment means that even Americans who work full-time fail to make ends meet, and growth slows because too few families have enough remaining in each paycheck to contribute to the broader economy.”

Walmart Workers Walk off Job on Black Friday: Thousands of Walmart workers, union supporters and allies organized more than 1,000 picket lines in 100 cities in 46 states on the busiest shopping day of the year, calling on the world’s largest private employer to pay its workers a living wage and stop retaliation against workers who speak out about poor working conditions.

“We’re not trying to shut down business; we are supporting our co-workers who speak out for better working conditions,” OUR Walmart member Yesenia Yaber told the Wall Street Journal.

The rally was “very emotional. Very big. We were hoping that there would be a lot of people from the city supporting us, and we thought there would be supporters from other stores, and every time I looked around, it was bigger than bigger,” Paramount, California striker Maria Elena Jefferson told The Nation.

Workers at some locations were joined by lawmakers such as Congressman George Miller of California and Congressman-elect Alan Grayson of Florida. The Black Friday strikes came 18 months after workers founded the OUR Walmart employees organization, backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. More than 20 charges of unfair labor practices have been filed with the National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) against the extremely anti-union retail giant.

Walmart also drew attention recently when photos from the scene of a deadly fire in a Bangladesh garment factory that killed at least 112 workers show Faded Glory-brand clothing, an exclusive Walmart label. Factories in Bangladesh are notorious for their lack of proper fire and safety standards. Walmart said in its statement Tazreen Fashions was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for them but a supplier subcontracted work to it without authorization.

America’s Surprising Consensus on Immigration: New research shows a surprising consensus among Americans on the hot topic of immigration. According to Georgetown University’s Dan Hopkins and MIT’s Jens Hainmueller, most Americans don’t put much weight on an immigrant’s birthplace but rely on his/her education and profession when asked who should be admitted. The researchers concluded that Americans would likely support a more skill-based immigration system. 

This Week in Labor History: Dec. 1, 1955 - African American Rosa Parks refuses to go to the back of a Montgomery, Ala. bus, fueling the growing civil rights movement's campaign to win desegregation and end the deep South's "Jim Crow" laws.

This Week’s Blog: A bar owner in Montana is not happy he’s being used by some lawmakers who claim they fight for small businesses when in reality they are working to protect the interests of big businesses.

“Let’s be clear: that isn’t about small businesses. It’s about big businesses, including many that get passed off as “small businesses” for tax purposes. Tax structures – S-corporations or partnerships or LLCs – get used to claim multi-million, sometimes multi-billion dollar companies are “small businesses.” It’s like carrying a fake ID to get into the bar.”

“The best way forward for small businesses? Three steps: 1) End the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent (that gets us almost $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years). 2) Protect middle class programs – Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare – that support a healthy customer base for small businesses. 3) Crack down on corporate tax dodging and make the big guys pay their fair share of taxes: if you want to fly the American flag outside your corporate headquarters, then pay your way.”

This Week’s Tweet: “Pew: More follow fiscal cliff story closely than Petraeus scandal. Hard to believe, but maybe tax policy is finally sexy” ~ @hillhulse

Hot on WWW: A Date with Nate: How liberals are obsessed with The New York Times blogger-slash-rock-star statistician Nate Silver. There’s a 99.97% chance of you LOLing after reading the first paragraph.

Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” for in-depth analysis of the fiscal cliff. The show, which originally aired on Friday, Nov. 30, is now available on demand. AFGE Public Policy Director Jacque Simon discussed the fiscal cliff’s potential impact on federal employees and the delivery of public service. Simon also detailed premium increases in the 2013 Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. Common Cause President and CEO and former Rep. Bob Edgar continued the fiscal cliff discussion and detailed what a deal might look like. Edgar also addressed Common Cause’s future agenda, including election protection and Senate filibuster reform. Lastly, Economic Policy Institute Research and Policy Director Josh Bivens shared EPI’s budget proposal, which focuses on creating jobs and strengthening the social safety net.

Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online at

Quote of t
he Week
House Speaker John Boehner on Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to implement a state-based insurance exchange as called for under Obamacare. Boehner, however, failed to mention that the choice will lead to the federal government operating the exchange in Ohio:

"I’m proud of our governor and lieutenant governor for taking this stand and resisting the federal takeover of health care in Ohio. Repeal of the president’s health care law is critically important to the economic future of our country.”

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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