AFGE Mobilizes Members to Counter Anti-Worker Schemes

Faced with anti-worker schemes by Congress' ruling Republicans right out of the starting gate, and an incoming Republican president who wants to freeze and cut the federal work force, the nation's largest federal workers union plans to mobilize its members, fast.

"The bottom line is that all of our members and all government employees could see our jobs outsourced and our agencies eliminated," American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox warned in a Jan. 12 conference call with tens of thousands of activists.

"We've already seen three pieces of legislation introduced” in the Republican-run U.S. House “attacking federal workers" just since the 115th Congress convened on Jan. 3, he said.

AFGE now has more than 310,000 active members, marking continued years of growth. And it will start a retiree affiliate to help augment those numbers in lobbying and out in the field, Cox told a retiree from Minnesota.

But members and retirees may have to move quickly to defend themselves. With a totally GOP-led government, Cox predicted anti-worker legislation could pass "within 60 days."

The most-immediate threats the federal government’s 2.2. million workers face include:


            * The Holman Rule, a provision the GOP successfully inserted in the rules of the House to let any lawmaker offer a provision to a money bill that could target an individual federal worker for firing or for a pay cut to $1 a year, or target an agency or group of workers for outright elimination.


            * The Page Act, reintroduced by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., to all federal workers "employees at will" subject to management whims -- up to and including firing -- at any time and for any reason, or none at all.


            * Legislation to ban pay for the time federal union reps elected as shop stewards take to work out problems and handle grievances on the job.


"The Page Act will affect every federal agency, and we'll try to kill it," union Legislative Director Thomas Kahn told listeners on the conference call. Not only would Rokita's bill let bosses fire workers "for good cause, no cause or bad cause" but it would also restrict workers' rights to appeal those firings and other discipline, he noted. "And it greatly restricts our ability" as a union "to do our business" for both members and non-members whom AFGE represents.

To mobilize its members and other federal workers, AFGE assembled a tool kit, posted on its website, on how to contact lawmakers -- on employees' own time, own computers and own dime, Cox emphasized -- along with where and when. At it will send its regional vice presidents and other experts out to any of its locals that requests specialized training.            

Some AFGE locals have already banded together for joint appearances at lawmakers' home offices, especially in Pennsylvania. There, Elena Mullions told colleagues on the conference call "individuals gather together" on their lunch hours "in front of" Republican Sen. "Pat Toomey's district offices" to show their concerns.

Cox also said workers should emphasize the economic importance of federal facilities, services and workers to local communities and their economies. They should especially make that pitch to the new House Republican members. "In many areas, our entities -- defense bases, hospitals, prisons -- are the largest employers," he noted. Closures and cuts in those employers would devastate local communities.

Cox himself has already sounded the same theme in visits to more than 100 lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill, from both parties. He noted not all Republicans are hostile, and reminded his activists to thank those – he singled out Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for praise – who back federal workers.

"We need to tell them about the vital services we provide -- holding the hands of near-and-dear veterans taking their last breaths," in VA hospitals, "protecting the border, and making sure our Social Security checks go out," among others, Cox told worker Robin Nicholas, who called from Michigan.

And there's one other point Cox drolly noted that workers could use in their e-mails, letters, phone calls and visits to solons' district offices: NIMBY. "I hear them (lawmakers) say, 'I want less government,' but I've not heard them say 'Please shut my VA medical center' or 'Please close my military base,'" the union leader commented.