Friday, November 15, 2013

AFGE Week in Review: Nov. 15, 2013 - Federal Pay, Pensions Targeted in New CBO Deficit Reduction Report

Nov. 15, 2013
  • Federal Pay, Pensions Targeted in New CBO Deficit Reduction Report
  • Senators Propose to Eliminate Federal Pensions for New Hires
  • New Poll: Americans Want to Close Tax Loopholes for the Rich, Corporations in Next Budget Deal
  • NP Cox Discusses Importance of Well-Funded VA System for Returning Vets on MSNBC
  • Alma Lee Reelected President of AFGE VA Council
  • Understaffing, Nepotism, Privacy Breaches Undermine Patient Care at VA hospital in Jackson, MS
  • New Study Reveals Web of "Think Tanks" Pushing Conservative Agenda in Every State
  • AFGE Leaders Tour Federal Prison in Puerto Rico
Federal Pay, Pensions Targeted in New CBO Deficit Reduction Report: The Congressional Budget Office this week issued a new 316-page report detailing options for deficit reduction that would raise revenue and cut both mandatory and discretionary spending. Federal pay and pensions are among those targeted:
  • A 1.2% increase in federal employee contributions to their pensions. This would affect every federal employee hired before 2013 (New hires have recently been hit with a 2.3% increase in their retirement contributions). The CBO used the race to the bottom – the fact that a large number of private-sector employers no longer provide health insurance or defined benefit retirement for their retirees – as a rationale for proposing this option, which would cost federal employees $19 billion.
  • A reduction in the amounts of federal pensions for employees who retire beginning in January 2015. Instead of using a "high-3 average salary" – the highest average basic pay earned during any 3 consecutive years of service – to calculate annuities, this option would use a high-5 average, thereby reducing annuities by 3%. Their rationale again is the race to the bottom. This option would cost federal employees $6 billion.
  • A reduction in annual pay raises. Under the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, the size of the federal pay raise is set at the annual rate of increase of the employment cost index for wages and salaries minus 0.5 percentage points. But the president and Congress could override FEPCA as they did when they froze federal pay for three years. The CBO proposal would reduce the increases by 0.5 percentage points from 2015 to 2023, costing federal employees $53 billion.
  • A 10% reduction in the federal workforce. The option would cut the federal workforce by 10% by filling only one position for every three workers who left. Doing more with less would cost federal employees $43 billion between 2015 and 2023. The CBO acknowledged that the federal workforce "may already be under strain from cost-cutting measures and that further reductions could impede the government's ability to fulfill parts of its mission."
  • A change in the way the Cost of Living Adjustment is calculated so that Social Security benefits will be lower. The change to use the so-called chained CPI to calculate COLA would not only cut Social Security benefits for seniors, the disabled, and federal employees, it would also cut veterans' pension and disability compensation and military retirement pay.
Other cuts in military pay and veterans benefits are among the options proposed in the report. The CBO also proposed replacing 70,000 military personnel with 47,000 civilians as civilians are usually cheaper. Other proposals include a variety of tax increases, reductions in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid benefits, housing and education subsidies, and cuts and elimination of many agency programs. The CBO acknowledged that cuts to Medicare would shift costs from Medicare to beneficiaries and could leave many uninsured.
Congress has until mid-December to come up with a budget deal as the government is currently operating under legislation that provides funding until Jan. 15.

Senators Propose to Eliminate Federal Pensions for New Hires: In a renewed attempt to Walmartize the federal government, which could well send its employees to the welfare lines, a group of senators has introduced a bill that would eliminate retirement pensions for new federal employees hired six months after the enactment of the bill. The Public-Private Employees Retirement Parity Act – introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia – would keep in place the Thrift Savings Plan with the current matching agency contributions of up to 5%. In introducing the bill, the senators cited the for-profit private sector's practice of providing meager benefits for their workers.

"Right now, federal government workers receive far more generous retirement benefits than private sector employees.  The cost to taxpayers of these benefits is unsustainable and we simply cannot afford it," said Sen. Burr.  "We cannot ask taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for public employee benefits that are far more generous than their own."

But Burr's "we just don't have the money" premise is fundamentally wrong in that the Federal Employee Retirement System is fully funded. In fact, it was designed to make it impossible to ever be underfunded. The average FERS pension hovers right around $12,000-$13,000 – not anybody's idea of a Cadillac retirement.

New Poll: Americans Want to Close Tax Loopholes for the Rich, Corporations in Next Budget Deal: By a strong 17-point margin (56% to 39%), Americans reject the cuts-only approach to deficit reduction and prefer new tax revenue from the wealthy and corporation, according to a new poll by a top national polling firm Hart Research Associates. Here are some other findings:
  • 65% of Americans believe the richest 2% should pay more in taxes.
  • 64% want big corporations to pay more in taxes, as opposed to 10% who say they should pay less.
  • 68% of Americans want Congress to also create jobs and boost the economy, not just reduce the deficit.
  • 70% say the sequester should be offset by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and big corporations rather than cutting Social Security or Medicare benefits.
  • By a two to one margin (53% to 27%), Americans prefer reducing the sequester cuts by half and replacing them with new revenue from the rich and corporations.
It's important to note that not everyone understands that "entitlement" means Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. When asked if they approve of a budget deal that cuts spending on entitlement programs, 52% of them approve. But when asked if they approve of cuts to Social Security and Medicare, fully 79% oppose the cuts. Even more people oppose Medicaid cuts – 83%.

NP Cox Discusses Importance of Well-Funded VA System for Returning Vets on MSNBC: About 22 veterans commit suicide every day – nearly one every hour. The startling statistic serves as a reminder that the invisible wounds of war require public attention and the government's commitment. AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. recently appeared on MSNBC's Taking the Hill to call for that commitment. A former VA nurse, Cox praised the Department of Veterans Affairs for working with the Pentagon to provide a seamless transition for veterans and to make sure they are aware of the services the VA provides. But more needs to be done. The VA needs to continue to expand its treatments and outpatient clinics so that veterans don't have to travel 500 or 1,000 miles to see a doctor. 

"We need to properly fund the VA," Cox said. "We ask men and women to go to war, to sacrifice, to put their lives on the line. We have an obligation and a responsibility as a nation to fund the VA to provide those services. I believe that every man and woman who has ever served this country, they have paid their health insurance premiums in full for the rest of their lives."

Alma Lee Reelected President of AFGE VA Council: AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. today congratulated all of the National Veterans Affairs Council officers for being reelected to their positions during the NVAC convention this week. Alma Lee was reelected to her eighth term as president of the AFGE National VA Council. The council is the largest bargaining council within AFGE, representing more than 204,000 Department of Veterans Affairs employees nationwide. Mary Jean "M.J." Burke was reelected First Executive Vice President, Oscar L. Williams Jr. was reelected Second Executive Vice President, and Bill Wetmore was reelected Third Executive Vice President. Dorothy Jefferson was reelected by acclamation as Treasurer.

"The reelection of every National VA Council officer is a testament to the outstanding leadership and representation being provided to our brothers and sisters in the Department of Veterans Affairs," Cox said. "VA is the fastest growing council within AFGE, and I expect this to continue with the sustained leadership of President Alma Lee and our other officers."

Understaffing, Nepotism, Privacy Breaches Undermine Patient Care at VA hospital in Jackson, MS: Chronic understaffing, nepotism, and other harmful management practices are hurting patient care and employee morale at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Jackson, Miss., said AFGE Local 589 President Charles Jenkins. Testifying before the House
Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding a history of management failures at the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery VA Medical Center, Jenkins said since 2003, Local 589 has requested corrective action to address severe short staffing of nursing personnel in a number of inpatient areas that has resulted in frequent patient falls and other patient harm, but management has been very slow to respond and has not taken sufficient action to resolve the problem. Fourteen patients fell during the month of September alone.

AFGE also has filed multiple requests to the VISN Director and Medical Center Director to investigate instances of nepotism involving the Associate Director of Patient Care Services and several Deputy Associate Directors hiring their own family members for nursing positions. Management waited more than a year to launch an investigation, which is still ongoing. VA leaders also have failed to hold management accountable for privacy breaches and manipulation of enrollment data involving My HealtheVet, the VA's online personal health record system. Local 589 asked management to investigate actions by a service chief that resulted in employees gaining unauthorized access to the account in order to artificially boost enrollment numbers for the hospital. Management conducted an investigation in May of this year but has yet to report any findings to the union.
A copy of Jenkins' testimony can be found here.

New Study Reveals Web of "Think Tanks" Pushing Conservative Agenda in Every State: Right-wing billionaires and corporations spent more than $83 million in 2011 to fund the State Policy Network (SPN) and its 63 state think tanks that aim at defunding and privatizing public schools, restricting workers' rights, blocking environmental protection regulations, rolling back healthcare reform, privatizing public pension systems, and building a tax system that benefits the wealthy. According to a newly released report by the Center for Media and Democracy, SPN has grown over the years and is bankrolled by the likes of the Koch Brothers, the Waltons (Walmart), the Bradley Foundation, which has a history of attacking voting rights and promoting voter ID laws, and the Roe Foundation, an early funder of the conservative Heritage Foundation and a funder of ALEC, a corporate bill mill that pushes for controversial state laws like stand your ground and voter ID laws.

"Acknowledging the group's political power, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin called the SPN member Idaho Freedom Foundation a "do" tank," the report said. "Darcy Olsen, president and CEO of SPN member think tank the Goldwater Institute, told the National Review, "We're in the business of applied policy." Applied policy appears to translate to changing state laws. Although most do not register lobbyists, many SPN members advance legislation through ALEC and outside of ALEC. They are in frequent communication with members of the legislature and have exerted strong influence on changes to state laws."

AFGE Leaders Tour Federal Prison in Puerto Rico: During the AFGE National VA Council convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this week, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr., 5th District National Vice President Everett Kelley, Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young, CPL NST Roger Payne, Chief of Staff Brian DeWyngaert, Political Strategic Initiatives Director Bob Nicklas and others paid a visit to the Metropolitan Detention Center – Guaynabo where a lieutenant was shot and killed on his way home after his shift earlier this year. The group was briefed on current changes made after the tragic death of Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati, including the replacement of all managerial staff and a purchase of armored perimeter vehicles to prevent drive-by shootings that have occurred at the facility. The group reached out to the Albarati family and ensured that they are kept in the loop regarding the investigation of Albarati's death. The group concluded the visit with a tour of the facility. CPL President Young said BOP officers at the facility were more than eager to see their national union representatives from both AFGE and the council.

"We took substantial time meeting with them and addressing their concerns," Young said.

This Week in Labor History: Nov. 14, 1881 - Trade unions form the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Organizations, later becoming the AFL. Under the leadership of Samuel Gompers and Peter McGuire, the AFL became the most influential labor organization in the nation.

This Week's Tweet: A carbon tax could reduce the deficit by $1 trillion ~ @thinkprogress

Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE's "Inside Government" as the union's president proposes safety reforms at the Transportation Security Administration. The show, which originally aired on Friday, Nov. 8, is now available on demand.
  • AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. discussed the recent Los Angeles International Airport shooting, which claimed the life of one Transportation Security Officer and injured two o

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