Saturday, December 8, 2012

AFGE Week in Review - Dec. 7, 2012

Dec. 7, 2012

Boehner’s Fiscal Cliff Proposal Targets Feds, Seniors, Sick and Poor But Protects Top 2% from Higher Rates: Leadership of the House of Representatives is once again using seniors, the sick, and the poor as a bargaining chip to win more tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations. In their latest budget proposal, House Speaker John Boehner, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are targeting Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries by proposing to cut $600 billion in benefits, including raising Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. They are proposing the way Social Security benefits are calculated by using a different measure of inflation so that Social Security recipients get short-changed for what they have put in all their lives. The lawmakers also want to raise $800 billion in new “revenue” – half of what the White House wants – not by raising taxes on the rich but by closing deductions (which they refused to specify and could well be those that benefit the middle class) and pro-growth tax reform – code word for a pro-big corporation tax system. In addition, they want to cut $300 billion from discretionary programs which fund federal agencies. Also on their chopping block is hundreds of billions in cuts to mandatory programs, including federal employee compensation. The following is what their plan looks like for federal workers: 
  • Freeze federal pay for three more years
  • Increase employees' salary contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System from 0.8% to 6.2% – effectively a pay cut of 5.4%, and
  • Cut the federal workforce by 10%. 
Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agreed it would be bad for the country to go over the so-called “fiscal cliff” – higher taxes for everyone plus deep government spending cuts, which is essentially austerity as more money remains in the Treasury. But Boehner’s repeated calls for deep government spending cuts would do exactly that. 

AFGE members are joining the AFL-CIO in hundreds of rallies and events across the country on this coming Monday, Dec. 10, to make our point loud and clear: stop forcing federal workers and the middle-class to pay for tax cuts for the rich.

Michigan State Legislators Pass Right to Work for Less Bills:  Right-wing members of Michigan House and Senate on Thursday approved right-to-work-for-less bills, paving the way for Michigan workers to earn less pay and benefits. The bills cover all public and private workers, except police and firefighters. The final legislation could be signed by Gov.Rick Snyder as early as next week.

Hundreds of people stormed Michigan’s Capitol building in protest of the union-busting law, which stops employers and employees from negotiating an agreement that requires all workers who receive the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement to pay their share of the costs of representing them. Right-to-work-for-less laws say that unions must represent every eligible employee, whether he or she pays dues or not. The laws are not fair to dues-paying members. They also weaken unions financially, leading to eroded union power to negotiate for better pay, benefits, and working conditions for workers.

As a result, workers in states with right-to-work-for-less laws have lower wages, higher poverty, less access to health care, poorer education for children - according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau. Specifically:
  • Workers in states with right-to-work-for-less laws earn $5,538 a year less than workers in states without these laws.
  • The rate of workplace deaths is 52.9% higher in states with right-to-work-for-less laws.
  • Right-to-work-for-less states spend $2,671 less per student on elementary and secondary education than free-bargaining states.
President Barack Obama is on record opposing these anti-worker laws.

“President Obama has long opposed so-called ‘right to work’ laws and he continues to oppose them now,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said in a statement to Talking Point Memo on Thursday. “The President believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights. Michigan – and its workers' role in the revival of the US automobile industry – is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy.”

AFGE members are encouraged to monitor the Michigan AFL-CIO website for update action information. AFGE members in the Lansing, MI, have also been joining the fight by volunteering for phone banks at the MI AFL-CIO headquarters and giving their time.

Right Wing Lawmakers Say No to Economic Recovery, Job Creation: Boosting the economy and creating jobs are not a priority for many right-wing lawmakers as they continue to block the White House’s attempt to jump start the economy with federal funds. While these lawmakers are pushing for more tax cuts for the rich, which, records show, doesn’t create jobs, they are all out against injecting money into the economy to immediately create jobs and income, the measure that got us out of the Great Depression in 1930s. These lawmakers, as it turns out, will accept that federal spending creates jobs only when the money for Defense contractors – their campaign donors – is about to get cut.

It’s important to note that the deficit that they cite for everything they’re opposed to happened because of their own policies, notably the Bush tax breaks that mainly benefit the rich. And now they want the elderly, the sick, and the poor to pay for it. 

Lawmakers Petition for Vote on Middle-Class Tax Cuts: Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota this week filed a discharge petition to bring the Senate-passed middle class tax cuts bill to the floor for a vote. Under the bill, an individual making less than $200,000 or $250,000 as a family won’t get a tax increase on January 1st. Leading members of Congress including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer support Walz’s petition.

“Americans have been clear: we must extend the middle class tax cuts now,” Pelosi said. “But [right wing lawmakers] only answer to the American people has been: ‘no.’ Instead, [they] are holding tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses hostage to more tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Our economy and our families cannot wait any longer for action and cannot afford a tax increase on the middle class.” 

OPM Director: Government Not Going to Shut Down Jan. 1 Even Without Debt Deal: If the White House and Congress can’t reach a deal on taxes and spending, the federal government is not going to shut down on Jan. 1, said Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry. Speaking at the AFGE National Executive Council meeting this week, Berry assured federal employees that Congress and the White House have a lot of time to reach a deal. If they can’t reach agreement by the end of December, agencies will have 30 days to come up with plans to implement across the board cuts, known as sequestration, giving Congress more time to work things out. Berry said in the event of reduction-in-force, union contracts will be followed.

The fiscal cliff, or austerity bomb, has been on many people’s mind, and AFGE National President J. David Cox on Monday held a Tele-Town Hall for AFGE members to discuss its impact on federal employees.

New Study Shows DoD Contractors Cost 3 Times More Than DoD Civilians: The Project on Government Oversight (POGP)’s new analysis of the Pentagon’s spending data shows DoD service contractor employees cost the department three times more than a DoD civilian employee doing the same job. Even though the number of employees in both federal and contractor workforces is similar, DoD spends a lot more on the contractor workforce: $253.8 billion for contractors and $72 billion (base) or $108 (base plus overhead) for civilian employees in 2010.

“This new data highlights the fact that the federal government is contracting out services regardless of the extra costs,” said Scott Amey, POGO general counsel. “Except for great work by the Army in tracking contractor labor and overhead and profits rates, there is very little interest in the government in monitoring service contract spending and assessing its relationship to overall federal hiring and spending. Instead, policymakers are promoting federal employee hiring ceilings, pay freezes, and increased contractor compensation benchmarks.” 

“Many of those policies are based on the unfounded premise that contractors are cheaper,” he added. “Some policymakers are more focused on the public vs. private pay gap debate, which, depending on whose studies you believe (Heritage Foundation or the Federal Salary Council), favors either side by approximately 30 percent. Meanwhile, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year on long-term service contracts that are wasting unknown amounts of taxpayer dollars.”

Workers, Seniors Rally at Social Security Offices to Protest Budget Cuts: AFGE, its National Council of Social Security Field Operations Locals (NCSSFOL) and the Social Security Works Coalition on Dec. 5 released a new study detailing the impact of the federal sequestration plan on Social Security Administration (SSA) staffing and services. To highlight the study and bring attention to potential budget cuts, the groups are holding rallies at over one hundred Social Security offices around the country.

“If sequestration is allowed to go into effect”, said AFGE Council President Witold Skwiercznski, “applicants and beneficiaries will have more difficulty getting answers to their questions and confidence in the Social Security system’s ability to function effectively will erode. Lawmakers need to wake up and know that further cuts at SSA cannot be sustained”.
The study looked at staffing levels and eleven specific production measures – indications of quality and efficiency – as a basis for determining the impact of sequestration. According to the results, all of the measures used would show degraded performance under a sequester. “Whether it’s staffing levels which would be cut by almost 4,000 or the length of time it takes to approve a disability application, which would increase by six days, this plan is an attack on Social Security”, said Nancy Altman, co-chair of the Social Security Works Coalition.

The study presents one scenario for the way in which SSA will attempt to reduce services in order comply with the required reduction. In addition to the impacts described in the study, SSA has already decided to reduce field office hours by 3.5 on Wednesdays and 1.0 on all other days of the week. In addition, approximately 41 field offices have been closed over the past two years and more closings are expected and/or planned for the future. Finally, the study does not provide an estimate of potential staff furloughs as it has no empirical data upon which to base an estimate.

Nightmare on Wall Street: Consumer Champion Elizabeth Warren to Sit on Senate Banking Committee: Wall Street spent millions trying to defeat former Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren in the November election, but she was elected anyway and will now sit on the Senate Banking Committee that has power over them as the panel oversees the implementation of banking laws and regulations such as Dodd-Frank.

Massachusetts Senator-elect Warren, who helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has pursued strong regulations on the finance industry, prompting right-wing lawmakers to block her from becoming the bureau’s director. 

Tea Party Senator DeMint to Head Anti-Middle Class Heritage Foundation: As one of the most extreme members of Congress, it’s not much of a surprise that South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is leaving Congress in January to head one of the most extreme, anti-middle class organizations in the country – the Heritage Foundation.

"I feel like I'm coming home -- I just told that to all the Heritage staff, " DeMint told radio host Rush Limbaugh on Thursday. "When I walk in the door here, I'm with like-minded people who care about the cause nationwide. So this is really a homecoming for me."

DeMint has established himself as a Tea Party leader in the Senate. Many critics including conservatives, however, blamed their extreme ideology for their loss in November.

This Week in Labor History: Dec. 4, 1955 – the AFL-CIO was founded to build a better labor movement for us all.

This Week’s YouTube Video: Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson on deficit hysteria "To scare people into thinking the budget must be balanced.”

Hot on WWW: Fetch of the year. 

Inside Government: AFGE National Council of Social Security Administration Field Operations Locals President Witold Skwierczynski discussed a series of nationwide protests against cuts to Social Security as part of fiscal cliff negotiations. Skwierczynski detailed the impact cuts would have on benefits and services.  

Former Clinton White House spokesman Bob Weiner provided additional fiscal cliff analysis, including the impact on cancer research and his reaction to the Boehner counteroffer. Weiner also discussed what a potential deal could look like. Lastly, Bill Fletcher Jr., author of “They’re Bankrupting Us!: And 20 Other Myths About Unions,” dispelled myths about unions and the labor movement.

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

Quote of the Week
President Barack Obama on the fiscal cliff:

“Everyone is going to have to share in some sacrifice. But it starts with folks who are in the best position to sacrifice. Just to be clear I'm not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up, the top 2 percent from going up.”

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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