Friday, April 19, 2013

AFGE Members' Swift, Heroic Response to Boston Marathon Bombings

April 19, 2013

AFGE Members' Swift, Heroic Response to Boston Marathon Bombings: Immediately after the bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon, state, local and federal first responders rushed to the scene. Boston EMS personnel, some of whom were just four storefronts down from the first blast, ran toward the explosion while people were running away. They didn't leave until the last patient left even after they had been told there could be more bombs. Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) immediately scoured the area searching for additional explosives. Among those risking their own lives were two K9 explosive detection teams from the Federal Protective Service. AFGE's very own Local 918 Region 1 Vice President Mike Cherry and AFGE member Walter Schlichting were among the K9 handlers sent to Boylston Street that afternoon. They worked side by side with the police and AFT agents. Other FPS officers at federal buildings were on full alert.

"We were extremely active in securing federal buildings in the area," said AFGE Local 918 President David Wright. "Since then there has been a mobilization to respond to the Boston area to help with state and local authorities."

Hundreds of investigators spent days pouring over thousands of video and still images of the area searching for clues. Taking the lead in the investigation is the FBI, which is working with the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force partners – Boston and state police, ATF, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The AFT brought in 30 explosives specialists, bomb technicians, enforcement specialists and canine teams. Also taking part in the response were the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, the intelligence community and Justice's U.S. Attorney's Office. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the department would provide "whatever assistance" necessary to assist with the response. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is also working with the Massachusetts state government to provide resources including crisis counselors.

But These First Responders Are Facing Furloughs, Their Agencies Facing Deep Budget Cuts : "We'll do the best that we can to minimize the harm that actually occurs as result of the sequestration, but the reality is there is going to be harm. There is going to be pain. The American people are going to be less safe. That is just the fundamental reality that people have got to get their heads around." Attorney General Eric Holder told the National Association of Attorneys General back in February. The Justice Department is taking the lead in the Boston bombing investigation, but the agency is forced to take sequestration cuts of $1.6 billion, something Holder said is "untenable." The department has sent out prospective furlough notices to 115,000 workers including FBI employees. Hundreds of federal prosecutors have been told they could be furloughed.
The tragedy in Boston reminds us that lawmakers cannot talk about budget cuts in the abstract. There are real consequences to their actions. Calls for even more cuts that are aimed at pleasing their extreme political bases will harm everyone. Any cuts in federal funding directly affect state and local governments as these agencies' work is intertwined. The FBI won't be able to do its job because its budget is being slashed by $550 million, forcing the bureau to cut 2,285 employees, including 775 agents, through furloughs and a hiring freeze. Like the FBI agents and many other federal employees, ATF employees are facing cuts and unpaid furloughs, despite the agency's critical mission.

"ATF should be twice the size it is," Francis Neeley, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association's ATF agency president, told reporters. "We are not wanting to be in a political game."

Recent budget proposals like the fiscal 2013 blue print authored by House Budget Committee Paul Ryan are purely political and short-sighted. Ryan wanted 4,500 fewer federal agents at Justice and the FBI, which would result in 160,000 fewer criminal cases that could be prosecuted. It's important to note that money from these cuts was used to give the few Americans who make more than $1 million a year an average tax cut of at least $150,000. Ryan's fiscal 2014 budget, which has passed the House, is simply a worse recycled version of the previous proposal. The House passed budget would cut a big chunk of federal support for services that state and local governments provide such as law enforcement, schools, health care, and clean water facilities. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states and localities are standing to lose $25.2 billion in 2014, or $256 billion over 10 years, under the Ryan budget on top of the cuts required under sequestration.

AFGE Mourns Passing of Boston Bombing Victims: AFGE stands in grief and solidarity with the families of the Boston Marathon victims, including Krystle Campbell, the daughter of UNITE HERE Local 26 member Patty Campbell. Krystle had attended the Boston Marathon every year since she was a little girl. She had a heart of gold," Patty said. "She was always smiling. You couldn't ask for a better daughter."

"She was one of the hardest workers that we had," said Nick Miminos, manager at Jimmy's Steer House, Krystle's most recent employer. "She would get in the trenches and work right next to you. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty."

The Boston Marathon blasts killed three people and injured more than 170. Besides Krystle, among the dead were eight-year-old boy Martin Richard and a Boston University graduate student from China.

Memorial Wall Honors Civilian Employees Killed on the Job: A memorial wall dedicated to federal employees killed in the line of duty was unveiled April 11 at a ceremony at the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C. The memorial wall, flanked by two American flags, has 52 silver stars, one for each state, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories, and the inscription:  "In grateful memory of federal civilian employees who gave their lives for our country."

"Each day, federal workers protect and defend the Constitution of the United States – often at personal risk," said John Berry, whose four-year term as OPM director was up April 13. "Together, they are part of the extraordinary experiment in freedom, self-governance, and service to others that we call America. The Wall of Honor marks our gratitude to the men and women in Federal civilian service who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty."

The Wall of Honor marks a new tradition at OPM that began in 2013 to honor civil servants who die in the line of duty. This is the first time that there will be a memorial to honor fallen civilian employees from across the Executive Branch.

AFGE Border Patrol Council Details Sequestration Impact on Border Security: AFGE's National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd this week testified before the Homeland Security Committee's Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee and discussed the devastating effects of sequestration on border security. Speaking on behalf of 17,000 Border Patrol agents represented by AFGE, Judd detailed the risks and challenges associated with securing 6,000 miles of international boundaries between the United States and its neighbors Mexico and Canada and the 2,000 miles of coastal waters, and explained how sequestration would undermine the ability of the agency to carry out its mission. Sequestration cuts would hurt border security as the cuts mean the loss of two hours of manpower per agent per day in addition to 14 furlough days. The current border security system relies on agents working overtime as a cost-saving measure because it is far more economical to pay for two hours of overtime than it is to recruit and train 5,000 new agents, especially under current fiscal constraints.

"Border security should not ebb and flow with Washington's political climate," Judd said. "The current sequestration, if implemented would be detrimental to our nation's security by suddenly reducing Border Patrol's workforce by twenty percent." 

Delays at Airports Expected as Air Traffic Controller Furloughs Start Next Week:  Significant delays at major airports across the country are expected next week as the furloughs of air traffic controllers start Sunday. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta announced a list of airports that are projected to experience delays as airlines struggle to deal with fewer DOT and FAA workers. Atlanta tops the list with an estimated delay of 11-210 minutes. Travelers flying out of Chicago O'Hare could expect a 50 to 132-minute delay. Other airports likely to see significant delays include Newark, JFK, LaGuardia, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, San Diego, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Chicago Midway and San Francisco.

NOAA Employees to Face 4 Furlough Days:  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this week announced all of its employees including those at the National Weather Service, could face up to four furlough days.

"…we are entering into national consultations with the labor unions that represent some of the NOAA workforce regarding implementation of up to four days of furlough for each NOAA employee before September 30, 2013″ said Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan.

This Week in Labor History: April 19, 1995 - An American domestic terrorist's bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, 99 of whom were government employees.

This Week's Op-Ed: In a New York Times op-ed "If Companies Are People," Rutgers history professor James Livingston asks: why not tax corporations as if they were natural persons, in accordance with their newly discovered rights of free speech? That move would solve any impending fiscal crisis.

"As corporations lobbied and learned to avoid taxes, the government began to close the revenue gap with payroll taxes. These were negligible before the creation of Medicare in 1965, but they now account for more than a third of federal revenue — in effect, they replaced the income taxes once paid by corporations. Personal income taxes (which have stayed at about 45 percent of federal revenues since 1950) and payroll taxes now provide the federal government with almost 80 percent of its yearly revenue.

The now-familiar objection to a tax increase on corporate profits is that it will discourage private investment and thus dampen job creation. The retort is just as obvious: since when have tax cuts on corporate profits led to increased investment, faster job creation and higher per capita consumption out of rising real wages? It didn't happen after the Reagan Revolution, it didn't happen during the Clinton boom of the 1990s, and it sure didn't happen under George W. Bush."

This Week's Tweet: " McConnell: "90% of Americans wanted us to vote yes, but we don't cave in to that kind of special interest group" ~@BorowitzReport

(Senate this week rejected background checks on gun purchases in a 54-46 vote)

Hot on WWW: Paying the Costs of Iraq, for Decades to Come. The wars are ending; the obligations, just beginning now.

"A little over 10 years ago, George W. Bush fired his economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, for saying that the total cost of invading Iraq might come to as much as $200 billion. Bush instead stood by such advisers as Paul Wolfowitz, who said that the invasion would be largely "self-financing" via Iraq's oil, and Andrew Natsios, who told an incredulous Ted Koppel that the war's total cost to the American taxpayer would be no more than $1.7 billion. As it turns out, Lawrence Lindsey's estimate was indeed off -- by a factor of 10 or more, on the low side. A new research paper by Linda Bilmes, of the Kennedy School at Harvard, begins this way: The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in US history -- totaling somewhere between $4 to $6 trillion.
The most powerful and disturbing part of Bilmes's analysis is the explanation of why, even though American combat deaths and military exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming to their ends, covering the costs has just begun. In the introduction she says: One of the most significant challenges to future US national security policy will not originate from any external threat. Rather it is simply coping with the legacy of the conflicts we have already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the paper lays out, a surprisingly large fraction of the long-term costs comes from the disability payments and medical obligations to people who served. People who were 18 or 20 years old when the war began, and who were injured or disabled (but survived), may need public help until very late in this century."

This Week's Member Benefit: Things are shaping up for AFGE members. Get member-only discounts on new health club memberships at over 1,500 health clubs including Bally's Fitness and select World and Gold's Gym across the country. AFGE Union Plus has partnered with GlobalFit Fitness Solutions to provide these health club savings for AFGE members. The Union Plus Health Club Discount gives you, among other things:

  • A pre-negotiated 20-60% discount on initiation and monthly fees at over 1,400 health clubs nationwide, including Bally Total Fitness.
  • An online directory makes it easy to locate a gym near you.
  • Access to the GlobalFit's Travel Program when visiting cities across the country. (Not available at all clubs).
  • Ability to conveniently freeze*, transfer or cancel your gym memberships.
  • Additional discounts for family members
Click here for more information.

Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE's "Inside Government" for analysis of proposed changes to federal employees' pension plans and health benefits. The show, which originally aired on Friday, April 19, is now available on demand.Bob Weiner, former Clinton White House spokesman, lauded the work of federal employees in the face of budget cuts, pay freezes and furloughs. Weiner also detailed sequestration's harmful effects on cancer research.
  • AFGE Small Business Administration Council 228 President Elaine Powell-Belnavis then discussed the union's labor contract agreement with SBA, which covers 2,000 federal employees and provides a range of benefits from an updated awards program to an expedited arbitration process.
  • Common Cause President and CEO and former Rep. Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania addressed the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) and increase in federal employees' pension contributions in President Obama's budget proposal.
  • Lastly, AFGE Public Policy Director Jacque Simon detailed proposed changes to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Quote of the Week: Former Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) responded to the Boston Marathon bombings by drawing attention to the need for a well-funded government capable of handling such tragedies with ease and efficiency.

"In this terrible situation, let's be very grateful that we had a well-funded, functioning government. It is very fashionable in America … to criticize government, to belittle public employees, talk about their pensions, talk about what people think is their excessive health care, here we saw government in two ways perform very well."

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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