Saturday, January 5, 2013

AFGE Week in Review - Jan. 5, 2013

Jan. 5, 2013

Lawmakers Vow to Partially Shut Down Government to Pressure White House for Deep Spending Cuts: As the new across-the-board cuts deadline looms, some lawmakers this week pledged to pursue deep cuts to agency budgets and social safety net programs by threatening a partial government shutdown to pressure the White House to go along with the plan. Congress and the White House this week averted the fiscal cliff by postponing the $1.2 trillion sequestration until March 1, giving themselves time to negotiate. Talks among lawmakers are already underway to extract the most spending cuts from the White House as the continuing resolution that keeps the government funded also expires at the end of March.

“The coming deadlines will be the next flashpoints in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut down the government,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas wrote in an op-ed.

In order to achieve devastating cuts to agency programs that benefit most Americans, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said on MSNBC that "we need to be willing to tolerate a temporary, partial government shutdown.”

Deal Reached to Postpone Sequestration for 2 Months, Permanently End Income Tax Breaks for the Rich: Congress and the White House this week reached a fiscal policy deal that prevents devastating agency budget cuts and income tax increases on most Americans. The following are major provisions included in the eleventh hour agreement, officially called the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012: 
  • After 20 years of opposing any tax increases, lawmakers finally agreed to raise taxes from 35% to 39.6% on income over $450,000 for married couples and $400,000 for individuals. Income below this threshold will permanently stay at the current rates as demanded by the White House.
  • 99% of Americans will keep the current income tax rates. Middle-class tax cuts are worth $2,200 per family.
  • The rich will start to pay their fair share. The average member of the top 1% will pay $73,633 additional taxes under the deal.
  • The deadline for the across-the-board budget cuts that will directly affect agencies and federal employees is extended until March 1. But the White House and Congress have agreed to pay $22 billion for the delay, which will be divided between spending cuts to domestic and defense agencies this fiscal year and next and a tax change that allows 401k plan participants to convert their traditional 401k accounts to a Roth 401k, which requires tax payments upfront. (Contributions to a traditional 401k account aren't subject to federal and state income taxes when you make the contributions. You'll pay ordinary income taxes when you withdraw your accumulated contributions in retirement. It's the other way around with a Roth 401k account, which is a better deal for people who expect their income tax rates to go up)
  • The payroll tax cut, which was meant to stimulate the economy, expired on Jan.1, 2013. The rate will go back to 6.2%, up from 4.2%. This portion of the payroll tax (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) funds Social Security. The average U.S. household that earns $50,000 will pay an extra $1,000 in taxes in 2013.
  • No cuts were made to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits.
  • Taxes on capital gains and dividends go up from the current 15% to 20% for income above the $450,000/$400,000 level. This will help level the playing field between those making their living through wages and those making their living off investments.
  • Unemployment benefits are extended for another year for two million people looking for jobs.
  • A series of tax breaks for 25 million low-income Americans are extended for five years, sparing America’s most vulnerable from a $1,000 tax increase on average. This includes the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
  • The estate tax will go up from 35% to 40% for income at the $450,000/$400,000 level with a permanent exemption of estates valued up to $5 million – $10 million for married couples.
  • There will be limits on tax deductions for income over $250,000 for single filers and $300,000 for couples.
  • The deal will raise more than $600 billion in new revenues over 10 years.
  • No cost of living adjustment for members of Congress.
Even though this legislation represents major and minor wins for the middle class, it didn’t raise enough revenue and didn’t make big corporations pay more in taxes. The deal also didn’t address the debt ceiling, which some lawmakers will use once again as a bargaining chip to cut vital programs for the middle class and the poor the next two months.

Federal Pay in Hand of New Congress: The House on Tuesday voted to extend the pay freeze for federal employees for the rest of 2013, but the bill, introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, died because the Senate didn't take it up. As it stands, federal employees are scheduled to receive a 0.5% raise in April per President Barack Obama’s executive order -- unless the new Congress, which convened Thursday, passes a bill to prevent it. AFGE denounced the House’s action and urged the new Congress to allow the already paltry raise for federal employees, who already have sacrificed $103 billion over 10 years to deficit reduction.

“Reducing the salaries of federal workers through an extended pay freeze is a cheap political ploy,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “Not only does it inflict tremendous damage on the families of these modestly paid workers, more than half of whom are veterans, but it also hits the communities where these employees live, since they will continue to be unable to afford any kind of economic activity beyond paying for the bare necessities of living.”

Death of Ft. Greely Police Officer Possibly a Result of Unsafe Working Condition, Understaffing:AFGE is seeking an investigation to identify the cause of death of police officer Georg Michael Greaser, who was found dead at a guard shack at Ft. Greely in Alaska on Dec. 27. Officer Greaser, who stood the watch alone when he passed away, had complained of carbon monoxide in the guard shack the week before and had been taken to the hospital for a check-up. He and other police officers had been assigned to guard the gate because the base didn’t have enough security guards due to personnel reductions and tight budget. The base has had difficulties recruiting guards as the wages are not competitive; grocery store cashiers make more than they do.

Fort Greely is a United States Army launch site for anti-ballistic missiles located approximately 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Arbitrary personnel reductions at this and other bases could harm national security and lead to more deaths of employees and those in the communities. AFGE Local 1834 has reached out to Alaska lawmakers including Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski to help with the investigation. 

Thanks to AFGE, VA Inspector General Will Investigate Legionnaires' Outbreak at Pittsburgh VA:The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General (IG) will investigate the recent outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Pittsburgh VA hospital that has killed at least one patient and sickened many others. AFGE 3rd District National Vice President Keith Hill had requested help from Sen. Robert Casey, who asked the IG to investigate the outbreak. Sen. Casey said the IG will also conduct a nationwide review of the disease within the VA health system. 

“I’m pleased that the VA Inspector General has opened an investigation into the Legionnaires’ outbreak at the VA Pittsburgh Health System,” Sen. Casey said. “It’s critical that the VA be held accountable and that reforms are instituted so this never happens again in Pittsburgh or any other VA facility.” 

At least two VA employees recently contracted pneumonia and are being tested to see whether it was from Legionnaires’, which is a severe form of pneumonia. NVP Hill and AFGE headquarters staff are going to hospitals next week to meet with the employees.

AFGE became involved locally and nationally in this crisis as soon as the first news of the outbreak broke, and called for an immediate investigation and comprehensive, aggressive response plan to ensure the safety of patients and front line health workers. AFGE has been troubled for some time about reports of retaliation against VA health care employees who have spoken up for patient safety and is still concerned about whether that culture of fear is impeding the investigation of this outbreak. 

Welcome 113th Congress! New Congress convened on Thursday after the swearing in ceremonies that brought families, friends, and supporters to Capitol Hill. The 113th Congress is the most diverse in history, bringing to Washington a record number of women – 101, first female combat veterans, first openly gay senator, first openly bisexual representative, and first Buddhist and Hindu members of Congress.

“I think women bring a slightly different perspective,” Rep.Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is one of the first female combat veterans and first Thai-American elected to Congress, told reporters. “The women, I think, are going to reach across the aisle a lot more. We’re a lot more pragmatic, but we do come from all different backgrounds.” 

House Speaker Boehner Narrowly Re-elected: Rep. John Boehner of Ohio was narrowly re-elected as speaker of the House on Thursday after weathering defections from his party’s rank and file to defeat former speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California by a 220-192 vote. Boehner needed 218 votes to win re-election assuming all 435 members voted. But he only needed 214 votes because only 426 votes were cast. 
Boehner was unanimously elected by members of his party two years ago. Twelve of them voted against him this time. Other nominees were Allen B. West of Florida, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, and retired Gen. Colin Powell. 

House Finally Approves Sandy Relief Bill after Turmoil: The House of Representatives today passeda $9.7 billion bill to help victims of Superstorm Sandy, two days after New York and New Jersey officials lashed out at House leadership for refusing to approve the much larger package approved by the Senate before the end of the last congressional session. The bill will now go to the Senate, which approved a $60 billion Sandy relief package in December that the House refused to take up. The House is set to vote on additional $51 billion on Jan. 15.

House lawmakers wouldn’t have come to their senses without pressure from prominent officials, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“Last night, the House majority failed most basic test of leadership and they did so with callous disregard to the people of my state…It was disappointing and disgusting to watch,” the governor exploded. “There's only one group to blame ... the House majority, and their Speaker, John Boehner.”

Sign up Now for Classes That Help You Better Serve Your Members: The National Labor College Bonnie Ladin Union Skills (BLUS) Program offers continuing education classes for union leaders, staff, and activists. Students learn valuable skills in union organizing, bargaining, and administration to better serve their union sisters and brothers. The week-long intensive courses combine in-class instruction with discussions of real-life experiences shared by a diverse group of students.

NLC Bonnie Ladin Union Skills (BLUS) Program First Quarter 2013 Calendar

January 2013
20-25    Arbitration Preparation and Presentation Level I

20-25    Contract Negotiations in the Private Sector 

27-February 1    Teaching Techniques I

February 2013
10-15    Arbitration Preparation and Presentation Level II

11-14    Secretary-Treasurers Total Solution Training 

March 2013
10-15    Teaching Techniques II

17-22    Organizing I

To register go to: Bonnie Ladin Union Skills Course Registration - National Labor College. 
For Bonnie Ladin Union Skills registration information contact Barbara Miller,, 301-431-5449

This Week in Labor History: Jan. 1, 1937 - Workers begin to acquire credits toward Social Security pension benefits. Employers and employees became subject to a tax of one percent of wages on up to $3,000 a year.

This Week’s Tweet: “Walmart to audit labor conditions in US warehouses... Using similar system that oversaw the Bangladeshi fire factory” ~ @Salon

Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” to learn about federal employees’ sacrifices toward deficit reduction. The show, which originally aired on Friday, Dec. 21, is now available on demand. Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia discussed the $103 billion dollars federal employees will contribute toward deficit reduction during the next 10 years and updated listeners on the fiscal cliff negotiations. AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. then detailed the union’s 2013 agenda, including membership and bargaining goals. Cox also analyzed the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” survey and detailed a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Pittsburgh. Lastly, AFGE Defense Conference Chair Don Hale addressed the impact sequestration would have on civilian Defense Department workers and also discussed DoD’s labor-management partnership.

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

Quote of the Week

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has two options for America: deep spending cuts or a government shutdown. Either way the middle class is screwed. 

“The coming deadlines will be the next flashpoints in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington. It may be necessary to partially shut down the government.”

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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