The informational blog for Michael Meserve, Vice President, Western Region, Council of Prison Locals
Friday, December 13, 2013
AFGE Week in Review: Dec. 13.2013 - AFGE Rejects Budget Deal, Calls for End to Reckless Sequestration
Dec. 13, 2013
AFGE Rejects Budget Deal, Calls for End to Reckless Sequestration
Contractor Salary Cap Cut in Half, Thanks to AFGE
AFGE President Asks to Meet with Army Secretary over Army's Plan to Replace Civilians with Military
New Analysis: 30% of Top Violators of Wage and Safety Laws Are Current Federal Contractors
AFGE Praises Report Calling for New Public Works Investments
AFGE Mourns Loss of Humanitarian Nelson Mandela
Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill Introduced, Finally
AFGE Rejects Budget Deal, Calls for End to Reckless Sequestration: The House Thursday evening approved a budget deal that forces a tradeoff between funding the programs to which federal employees have devoted their lives and their own livelihoods. Even though the two-year budget deal partially repeals sequestration for two years – $45 billion in 2014 and $20 billion in 2015 – it requires federal employees hired after Dec. 31, 2013 to pay an additional 1.3% toward their pensions for a total of 4.4%. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will add a 'self plus one' option. AFGE, however, commends lawmakers who stood up for federal employees during budget talks, notably House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen. Current employees won't be asked to contribute more into their pensions because of the lawmakers' extraordinary efforts to protect federal employees. The original plan proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan was to require federal employees to increase their retirement contribution by 5.5%. He also wanted to eliminate the supplemental retirement payments for future employees.
"As hard as they fought, they were still forced to fight within a ridiculous box created by the Budget Control Act, which triggered irresponsible sequestration," said AFGE Legislative and Political Director Beth Moten. "They were boxed in by austerity budgeting that has hurt families and job creation."
In addition to Hoyer and Van Hollen, AFGE members are grateful for the support shown by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, Frank Wolf of Virginia, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and Nita Lowey of New York. On the Senate side, AFGE extends our appreciation to Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and Harry Reid of Nevada. The Senate is expected to pass the bill next week.
Contractor Salary Cap Cut in Half, Thanks to AFGE: Because of AFGE and these heroic members of Congress' demand, the budget deal lowers the contractor salary reimbursement cap from a scandalous $952,308 to a less outrageous $487,000, which AFGE will seek to reduce even further.
The Office of Management and Budget last week issued a Federal Register notice raising the cap to $952,308 retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012. Even though the provision in the budget deal won't take effect until 180 days after the bill becomes law, without AFGE and the lawmakers' intervention, the amount would have risen to over $1 million while veterans and federal employees are struggling and asked time and again to chip in to enrich the wealthy. AFGE has been urging OMB to change this absurd formula for years. Even contractors don't believe the cap should be set at $952,308. The Professional Services Council, for example, acknowledged "that the formula needed to be revisited."
AFGE President Asks to Meet with Army Secretary over Army's Plan to Replace Civilians with Military: AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. last week requested a meeting with Army Secretary John McHugh after the Pentagon recently approved the Army's request for additional discretion to replace civilian employees with military personnel through fiscal 2014. AFGE is very concerned about how the Army will use its greater discretion, especially given reports that the Army is eager to use Borrowed Military Manpower (BMM) instead of civilians and contractors in thousands of instances. It doesn't make any sense that the service would cite budget shortfalls for substituting military personnel for civilians as it's a known fact that military personnel are more expensive than civilians.
"As I am sure you would agree, our members, your local and dedicated employees, deserve to know how their lives and their work will be affected by the delegation of this extraordinary discretion and how the additional use of BMM could possibly promote economy during these austere times," NP Cox wrote.
New Analysis: 30% of Top Violators of Wage and Safety Laws Are Current Federal Contractors: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's analysis released this week shows that taxpayer dollars are routinely paid to a large number of contractors who refuse to comply with federal wage and safety laws, putting the livelihoods and the lives of their workers at risk. Specifically, the committee's analysis revealed that almost 30% of the top violators of federal wage and safety laws are current federal contractors. Almost half of the penalty paid by companies found violating safety laws held federal contracts in 2012. During this period, 42 American workers died as a result of safety violations. In 2012, $81 billion in taxpayer dollars were paid to the 49 federal contractors that were cited for 1,776 wage and safety law violations and had to pay $196 million in penalties.
The committee made a series of recommendations, including having agencies put in additional requirements to ensure that contractors comply with the laws. Agencies also should be encouraged to promote compliance and better safeguard taxpayer dollars by having federal employees do the work in question.
In a letter to Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, AFGE Legislative and Political Director Beth Moten endorsed the committee's approach to addressing the problem. She added that when a contractor's record shows that it has violated labor laws, the company should be disqualified from competition instead of being given points for graded levels of responsibility between contractors. The Labor Department also should be empowered and fully funded to investigate and exclude scofflaw contractors.
AFGE Praises Report Calling for New Public Works Investments: AFGE echoes the findings of a new report from the Center for Effective Government, which argues that Congress needs to shift its focus from slashing federal spending to investing in America's future. The report released today, "The Bridge to Prosperity: Reverse Reckless Cuts, Restore Our Infrastructure, and Revive Jobs," argues that the U.S. has an investment deficit when it comes to our schools, roads, bridges, levees and dams, and clean water infrastructure. By targeting new investments in these areas, Congress can create good-paying jobs and save money in the long run, all while improving the quality of life for all Americans.
"AFGE has been arguing for years that we can't cut our way to economic prosperity, and this new report makes that crystal clear," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. "We have a growing backlog of public works projects that has been ignored while Congress debates cutting federal employee wages and cutting cost-of-living adjustments for retirees and military veterans. By repairing crumbling roads and bridges, restoring aging school buildings, upgrading water treatment plants, and strengthening our flood control systems, we can improve our nation's health and safety, create millions of good-paying jobs, and save us from more costly repairs down the road."
A $124 billion investment in essential public structures and infrastructure upgrades would create as many as 2.5 million jobs nationwide, the report finds. In addition to investing in our public works projects, NP Cox called on Congress to eliminate sequestration and invest in a first-class government workforce that is positioned to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
AFGE Mourns Loss of Humanitarian Nelson Mandela: AFGE joins with millions of people around the world in expressing deep sorrow upon hearing the news of the Dec. 5 passing of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
"Nelson Mandela was more than a hero to the South African people," said AFGE National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices Augusta Thomas. "He came to signify the integrity and commitment of those who, despite the odds, stood against oppression and injustice. Many members and leaders of AFGE participated in the anti-apartheid support movement here in the U.S. We were proud to be associated with the men and women in South Africa who, through various means, took up a fight that many mainstream commentators believed impossible to win."
Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill Introduced, Finally: A bill was introduced this week to allow eligible workers 12 weeks of paid leave each year to take care of a new born, an adopted child, a sick family member, or their own medical conditions. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. Under the bill, the program would work the same way as Social Security – workers must pay into the system in order to collect benefits. It would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits. Employees and employers would each contribute 0.2% of wages with a maximum contribution of $4.36 per week or $227.40 per year for a high-income earner. The average woman worker earning the median weekly wage would only need to contribute $1.38 per week. Workers would receive benefits equal to 66% of their typical monthly wages with a maximum of $1,000 per week. The bill would cover federal employees.
"The proposal makes leave available to every individual regardless of the size of their current employer and regardless of whether such individual is currently employed by an employer, self-employed or currently unemployed, as long as the person has sufficient earnings and work history," said Sen. Gillibrand. "In this way it would apply to young, part-time and low-wage workers."
According to the Department of Labor, only 12 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers. Three states – California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – have paid family leave laws. The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't mandate paid leave for new parents. Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, in 1993 to allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of leave to take care of their families or their own illnesses, but many people cannot afford to take time off under this job-protection law because it's not paid leave. FMLA also doesn't cover every worker as it only applies to organizations with 50 or more employees.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the FAMILY Act. "The FAMILY Act will be especially important to young workers, part-time and low-wage workers, regardless of their employer's size or their duration on the job. And the FAMILY Act will be a win for employers as well, because it will lower employee turnover rates and increase productivity, if passed."
This Week in Labor History: Dec. 10, 1906 - First sit-down strike in U.S. called by the Industrial Workers of the World at General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y.
This Week's Blog: In an awesome blog post on The Huffington Post this week, author and political organizer Robert Creamer argues that progressives must fight back against the right wing war on public employees. A proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin demanding a massive increase in pension contributions by all civilian federal employees is the latest assault against public sector employees in an organized war waged by conservative lawmakers and their allies in corporate America and on Wall Street:
"Government is the name we give to the things we choose to do together.
We have to attract the best and the brightest to staff our government. That requires that the teaches, firefighters, police officers, maintenance people, researchers, clerks, constituent service workers, programmers, air traffic controllers, managers, construction workers, corrections officers, policy analysts, and everyone else who works for our governments must be respected, well compensated, and have the right to collectively bargain over the wages and working conditions. It's time for us all to stand up against the Right Wing war on public sector employees."
This Week's Tweet: Following backlash for Sen. Warren attack, Third Way think tank admits much of its funding comes from Wall Street http://slnm.us/I5Bt5iq ~ @salon
Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE's "Inside Government" as the union's members share their stories working on the front lines in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The show, which originally aired on Friday, Dec. 6, is now available on demand.
AFGE VA Local 903 Chief Steward Donald White, who works at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia, Mo., discussed the fight for equality for all employees and the union's response to mandatory overtime in the VA.
Geddes Scott, executive vice president of AFGE VA Local 1988, then addressed the personal connection VA caregivers feel toward their patients and efforts to organize and mobilize members at the local level.
Lastly, Vietnam Veterans of America Policy and Government Affairs Executive Director Rick Weidman detailed mental health concerns for veterans returning home from combat and legislation designed to assist veterans in need.
Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. ET on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online at FederalNewsRadio.com. For more information, please visit InsideGovernmentRadio.com.
Quote of the Week: House Speaker John Boehner lashed out at extremist groups, Heritage Foundation, Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, for attacking the budget deal brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray. The groups were furious that the budget levels agreed on were higher than the sequester levels. Boehner:
"They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous."
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