Federal employees deserve better

Federal employees deserve better
8:30 PM, Sep. 18, 2012  |  

For more than two years, the U.S. population has heard that federal employees are the root cause of all of the government’s financial problems, and with less government, the budget crisis will be solved. It is time to stop allowing politicians to demonize federal employees and to thank them for the services they provide the public.

In early January 2012, the Census Bureau reported that the population of the United States was about 312,809,589 (with births, deaths and immigration; we have a net gain of one person every 17 seconds). At the same time, there were about 2,130,289 federal employees, including those who work around the world and in the U.S. territories. Thus, the federal workforce (many of whom are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees) makes up approximately 0.7 percent of the U.S. population. That 0.7 percent of the population cares for our veterans, maintains military equipment, protects our borders, ensures the food we eat is safe and works tirelessly to make our country the best that it can be.

Politicians from both parties have demanded that this 0.7 percent of the population be singled out to bear a huge portion of the cost of reducing the deficit. Although it is true that many of the cuts proposed for federal employee jobs and compensation would not be permanent, and thus not strictly deficit reduction sacrifices, they are all sold as such.

Federal employees have already been subject to pay freezes, job cuts, hiring restrictions, pension reform and increased medical costs, yet legislators on both sides of the aisle want federal employees to give even more! In fact, the two-year pay freeze imposed in 2011 and 2012 cost federal employees $60 billion over 10 years (source: afge.org), and now politicians and overpaid bureaucrats want to add three more years to the pay freeze.

In addition, the privatization of federal services would put hundreds of thousands more people out of work while costing the taxpayers even more through contractors. These cuts will put additional Americans on unemployment, thus increasing the unemployment rate.

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Two wars, the bursting of the housing bubble and the bailout of Wall Street helped to get America into this economic mess, yet it appears only federal employees are being asked to get us out.

Don’t the veterans deserve their medical services? Don’t seniors and our disabled deserve to have their Social Security claims filled? Don’t our airports and borders deserve to be secured? Doesn’t the food that we eat deserve to be safe? It is time for this dysfunctional Congress to stop blaming federal employees for all of our problems and place the blame where it really lies.

The 1 percent the legislators keep protecting could be the solution to the deficit problem if these taxpayers paid their fair share of taxes and the loopholes they take advantage of are closed. Federal employees and the services that they provide deserve better than to be Congress’ scapegoat, when others are not contributing their share to reduce the nation’s debt.

According to former President Ronald Reagan (the only U.S. president who was also a former president of a labor union), “Collective bargaining in the years since has played a major role in America’s economic miracle. Unions represent some of the freest institutions in this land. There are few finer examples of participatory democracy to be found anywhere. Too often, discussion about the labor movement concentrates on disputes, corruption and strikes. But while these things are headlines, there are thousands of good agreements reached and put into practice every year without a hitch.”

Again, America’s workers didn’t create the deficit and they should not be looked at as the only means to a cure. It’s time to stop focusing on cuts to federal employees to fix our economic problems. We need to ensure that all Americans, including the rich and big corporations, pay their fair share. It’s time for politicians to stop trying to score political points off of the back of middle-class workers at the VA, in the Border Patrol, or at the Social Security Administration, and start looking for real solutions for our country. Our federal employees and unions are willing to sacrifice, to work hard and want to create another “economic miracle,” as in the words of President Reagan.

Clifford Park is president of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, Local 1216, based at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

Author: AFGE Local 704

Representing over 900 bargaining unit employees working at the U.S. EPA Region 5 Offices in Chicago, Ann Arbor, MI and Westlake, OH.

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