The informational blog for Michael Meserve, Vice President, Western Region, Council of Prison Locals
Friday, May 3, 2013
Others Join AFGE in Our Call to End Sequester
May 3, 2013
Others Join AFGE in Our Call to End Sequester: Now that the sacred Harvard studies used by half of Congress to justify spending cuts have been very publicly discredited, more and more organizations and lawmakers are joining AFGE in our repeated calls to repeal the job-destroying, economy-killing across-the-board cuts. Two prominent members of Congress – Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland this week announced sequestration is doing more harm than good and needs to be reversed, especially now that the deficit is already shrinking.
"Trying to just land on the debt too quickly would really harm the economy; I'm convinced of that," Kaine told Politico. "Jobs and growth should be No. 1. Economic growth is the best anti-deficit strategy."
Conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute is changing its tone. "American fiscal austerity has been moderate and probably, at the current pace of deficit reduction of about $300 billion per year over the next half decade, has proceeded far enough for now," AEI scholar John Makin wrote.
The Federal Reserve this week issued a statement saying it will continue to stimulate the economy as unemployment remains high and government budget policies have begun to restrain economic growth.
"Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth," the Federal Open Market Committee, the central bank's policy-setting arm, said in a statement.
AFGE is urging Congress to end these reckless budget cuts and instead focus on creating jobs and growing the economy. "We've been saying this since 2010 and we're going to say it again: jobs and economic growth should be our number 1 priority," said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. "Sequestration hurts everyone. Workers are being laid off. Last week Congress had to cancel furloughs at the FAA because flights were delayed and cancelled. These real-world consequences should serve as a wake-up call for Congress. You can't make a political point off the backs of Americans."
AFGE Criticizes Defense Secretary for Rejecting Call to End Furloughs: In an April 30 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said he was surprised and disappointed that Hagel continues to insist that nearly all DoD civilian employees be furloughed across the board, even though some components are able to absorb the budget cuts required under sequestration without furloughing employees.
On April 24, 126 House members from both parties sent a letter to Hagel, urging him to review the Pentagon's plans to furlough nearly every civilian employee for 14 days, systematically fire temporary and term employees, and freeze new employee hiring. In the letter, the lawmakers highlighted the injustice of applying civilian furloughs equally across all of the services and Defense agencies, since some components say they can avoid furloughs by making offsetting cuts in other areas or generate their own revenue. But Hagel's written response indicated that there is no plan to alter the Pentagon's one-size-fits-all approach. In his letter, NP Cox noted that furloughs will increase costs, reduce productivity, and undermine readiness.
"Components and agencies should clearly not be forced to take the same number of furlough days. If components or agencies have come up with offsetting sequestration cuts or generate their own revenues, they should not be required to impose furloughs. That's not a radical proposition. Rather, that's competent leadership," NP Cox wrote.
OSHA Can No Longer Operate on a Tiny Budget: All eyes are on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after the Texas fertilizer plant exploded two weeks ago, killing 14 people and injuring about 200. But is that a surprise that the explosion took place at all? Despite its critical mission, this agency has been underfunded and understaffed for years. OSHA's tiny budget, which this year stands at $535 million, allows the agency to inspect the nation's eight million workplaces only once every 130 years. Coupled with anti-regulatory sentiment in Congress, this is a recipe for disaster.
"OSHA must be given the funding and authority it needs to more effectively protect the American workforce," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.
Federal Retirees to Wait Longer for Full Paychecks Due to Sequestration: The Office of Personnel Management has managed to cut its backlog of unprocessed federal retirement claims from more than 61,000 to about 37,000, but that's likely to change now that OPM this week announced it will suspend overtime for claims processors and reduce call center hours to save money. What this means to federal employees is that they will have to wait even longer to get their full retirement paychecks. The average time to process retirement claims was 156 days in 2012, but many retirees had to wait almost a year to get their full pensions.
Bill Proposed to Force Federal Employees out of Federal Health Insurance Program: While Congress and the Office of Personnel Management try to sort out how to move members of Congress and staff off the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and into the new exchange market as called for under the Affordable Care Act (this provision was a political gambit), Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has introduced a bill that would force federal employees to drop their insurance coverage in the FEHBP. Camp and his allies have been trying unsuccessfully to repeal the ACA, which establishes insurance exchanges for people whose employers do not provide coverage. Now they are trying to force federal employees onto the insurance exchanges even though the purpose of the exchanges is to provide insurance to those who don't have any. Camp's motive is purely political as private-sector workers are allowed to use their existing coverage under the ACA.
"Rep. Camp should be ashamed of himself for trying to make a political point at the expense of these employees," said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's spokesman Drew Hammill said, "There is no need to kick over two million federal employees off their insurance plans in order to satisfy the cynical political urges of House Republicans, who have voted to repeal this law over 30 times."
Leading Senators Urge Congress to Curb Excessive Contractor Payouts: Sens. Barbara Boxer and Charles Grassley this week urged Senate subcommittees to include in their 2014 spending bills a provision that would place commonsense limits on the amount taxpayers reimburse contractor employees for their salaries. While federal employees' pay has been frozen for almost three years, contractor pay has gone up every year. Currently, government contractor employees can charge taxpayers $763,029 per year for salary reimbursements. The rate has more than doubled since 2000. Last year the Senate Armed Services Committee included in its 2013 Defense Authorization bill a provision that would lower the compensation cap on taxpayer reimbursements for defense contractor employees from $763,029 to $230,700, but the provision was dropped in conference with the House. A provision to limit non-defense contractor compensation to $400,000 was included in another 2013 spending bill which was never enacted.
"In discussing the state of the current contractor compensation law, the Senate Armed Services Committee's report noted that, "at a time when most Americans are seeing little or no increase in their paychecks and budget constraints require the Department of Defense to find efficiencies in all areas, the committee concludes that increases of this magnitude are unsupportable." We agree, which is why we are requesting your subcommittee include language limiting contractor compensation in its FY2014 bill," Sens. Boxer and Grassley wrote in an April 25 letter to chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Financial Services and Subcommittee on Defense.
AFGE Outraged over Bonuses Awarded to VA Director during Legionnaires' Outbreak: AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. today issued the following statement in response to reports of VISN 4 Director Michael Moreland receiving a five-figure Presidential Rank award on the heels of a Legionnaires' outbreak and other whistleblower retaliation concerns in his region.
"This is absolutely unbelievable. We are truly at a loss as to why the VA continues to reward those in its leadership ranks who clearly are not operating in the best interest of our veterans. The recent VA Office of Inspector General report shows us that leaders within the Pittsburgh VA system, and Director Moreland, knew of the Legionella problem early on and for more than a year but didn't take all of the necessary actions to keep our veterans and hospital employees safe. Why should Mr. Moreland be rewarded for mismanagement? We've seen this time and time again at the VA; front-line employees are forced to do more with less, while agency executives are pulling in bonuses despite mismanagement, retaliation and intimidation of employees under their watch."
Fix the Debt CEOs Use Loophole to Avoid Paying Taxes: The 'Fix the Debt' coalition, a pro-austerity group backed by Wall Street CEOs, has been calling for cuts to government programs that benefit most Americans, including Social Security and Medicare. But a new report that just came out this week confirms what we already know that the group is just a bunch of hypocrites. The report from Institute for Policy Studies shows the Fix the Debt CEOs raked in between $953 million and $1.6 billion through the "performance pay" loophole, which allows some executive compensation to be counted as a tax-deductible business expense instead of a salary. For example, UnitedHealth Group, the country's largest HMO, paid CEO Stephen Hemsley $199 million in total compensation between 2009 and 2011, $194 of which went for fully deductible "performance pay". That means the company pocketed a $68 million taxpayer subsidy just for one individual CEO's pay. Hemsley also received another $28 million in performance pay in 2012 – a tax break of nearly $10 million for UnitedHealth. Besides exploiting the performance pay loophole, many of these executives have also added to America's debt and deficit by using tax havens and other accounting tricks to have their corporations avoid paying their fair tax share.
National Labor College to Offer Public Speaking Workshop: The National Labor College is excited to announce a NEW two-day Public Speaking Workshop to be held in Washington, D.C. on May 15-16, 2013. Effective communication is a critical skill that every union leader, staff member or steward needs. Join a limited number of labor activists to improve your personal delivery style through a series of practice sessions and gain insights on how to prepare a persuasive presentation that is clear, concise, and concrete. This two-day workshop costs $499 per person and is not offered for college credit.
For more information, please contact Barbara Miller at 301-431-5449 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.nlc.edu/unionskills for the complete 2013 schedule, course descriptions, and registration. National Labor College is the only college in the United States with an exclusive mission to serve the educational needs of the labor movement.
Did You Know OPM Has a YouTube Channel? Check it out here.
This Week's Op-ed: This op-ed piece in The New York Times by two University of Massachusetts, Amherst economics professors Robert Pollin and Michael Ash is a must-read if you've been following a debate on the relationship between government debt and economic growth over the past two weeks. As it's increasingly clear that the main research behind the austerity movement is seriously flawed, the UMass economists are pushing Congress to end the spending-cut mania that has led to massive layoffs and hindered the economic recovery. They also take a swipe at the two Harvard professors who have done nothing to discourage politicians from citing their now-debunked research. Pollin and Ash write:
"We agree with Ms. Reinhart and Mr. Rogoff that the United States and Europe face extremely difficult challenges in trying to recover from the 2007-8 financial crisis and the Great Recession that followed. Sadly, in our view, they abetted, or at least failed to stop, the use of their scholarship by politicians who latched on to their findings — in particular the now discredited 90 percent figure — to call for severe cuts in government budgets and services, layoffs of public-sector employees and tax increases. What this debate has demonstrated is that policy makers cannot defend these austerity measures on the grounds that public debt exceeding 90 percent of G.D.P. will consistently produce sharp declines in economic growth.
History suggests that there is some threshold beyond which piling on public debt definitively yields lower economic growth, but there is no consensus on what that threshold is, and the evidence suggests, in any event, that the United States and Europe are not anywhere close to it. Responsible policy makers must balance the relative costs and benefits of austerity at a time when high unemployment is exacerbating rising inequality, and threatening the social fabric of advanced industrial democracies around the world."
This Week's Pinocchio: Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was this week given four Pinnochios (the most you could get on the scale of one to four) by the Washington Post fact checkers for a fresh lie that she had voted against sequestration because she knew it would hurt the poor. The fact checkers dug up some quotes and were able to prove she voted against sequestration because the spending cuts were too small.
"Bachmann is reinventing history here," concluded the fact checkers. "The evidence shows that she did not warn of the "calamities" that she says have befallen Americans in the sequester — and if she was really worried about the impact of sequester on the poor, she was unusually quiet about it. Instead, she said at the time that the Budget Control Act did not cut spending enough — and she actually proposed cutting spending even deeper and faster on the very programs she now professes to care so much about."
This Week's Tweet: "CVS is a death trap: "They have spray cans full of neurotoxins sitting adjacent to torch fuel. http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/05/02/cvs_death_trap_danger_lurks_at_every_aisle.html …" ~@ezraklein
This Week's YouTube Video: Realism Challenge #3: Playing Card
This Week in Labor History: April 30, 2012 - The Obama administration's National Labor Relations Board implements new rules to speed up unionization elections. The new rules are largely seen as a counter to employer manipulation of the law to prevent workers from unionizing.
Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE's "Inside Government" for the latest furlough developments at the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense. The show, which originally aired on Friday, May 3, is now available on demand.
Chuck Orzehoskie, president of AFGE's EPA Council 238, discussed the implementation of furloughs at the agency and its long-term effect on pollution and other environmental issues.
AFGE Defense Conference Vice Chair Patty Viers then detailed the union's ongoing Days of Action to permanently end furloughs at the Defense Department. Viers also addressed how furloughs would impact middle-class civilian DOD employees.
AFGE Legislative and Political Director Beth Moten discussed the union's legislative efforts to fight back against sequestration and furloughs.
GovLoop Community Engagement Director Andrew Krzmarzick provided tips for furloughed federal employees facing a work backlog and highlighted the benefits of government agencies using social media.
Quote of the Week: AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. on VISN 4 Director Michael Moreland receiving a five-figure bonus on the heels of a Legionnaires' outbreak and other whistleblower retaliation concerns in his region:
"We've seen this time and time again at the VA; front-line employees are forced to do more with less, while agency executives are pulling in bonuses despite mismanagement, retaliation and intimidation of employees under their watch."
American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO 80 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001 | Tel. (202) 737-8700 | Fax (202) 639-6492 | www.afge.org