WASHINGTON – Faced with Trump’s threat of arbitrary layoffs, members of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) are conducting three days of lobbying here and actions around the county to tell their stories.
The NTEU is a large independent union representing both Treasury Department employees and staffers from 30 other federal agencies.
NTEU President Tony Reardon says he is, of course, concerned about his members losing jobs. But, he says, “I’m equally concerned about the American people. They want a government that works efficiently and that works for them and I don’t see how it can” with all the cuts that Trump and his GOP congressional colleagues advocate.”
Reardon spoke at the opening session of NTEU’s legislative conference.
NTEU plans to reach out to other government worker unions – and to workers in general – to form a large coalition aimed at showing that federal workers are not the enemy that right wing politicians often paint them as, but loyal, hard-working employees who do jobs the rest of us depend on.
Treating those federal workers fairly, in pay, pensions, job security, collective bargaining and due process rights and in upholding the missions of the agencies they serve – rather than trashing them – were the themes of NTEU’s legislative conference. It started just after Trump released a proposed federal budget outline to add $54 billion in one year to defense spending, and cut that money from domestic programs other than Social Security and Medicare.
Some agencies would suffer more than others, Reardon and other speakers said: The IRS is targeted for a 14 percent, $1 billion cut, for example, while the Environmental Protection Agency would lose one-quarter of its budget and one-fifth (3,000) of its workers.
To put that in perspective, Reardon said, the Republican-run Congress has cut the IRS by $1 billion, and the equivalent of 6,000 full-time workers, since it took over after the 2010 election. Trump would add an equal cut all in one year, he noted.
Congressional Democrats are already agreeing with NTEU and other federal worker unions, said Reps. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., and Mike Quigley, D-Ill., who spoke to the group. But more lobbying is necessary, including convincing Senate Dems to stop anti-worker schemes.
“I see the words ‘breaking news’ on TV. Just below that I’d like to see ‘NTEU storms Capitol Hill,” Reardon told the hundreds of NTEU activists. “That is exactly what we do. This is our opportunity to make a big, big impression on those lawmakers.”
But it may not be easy, he admitted. Using the IRS as an example – since his union represents that agency’s workers and a majority of them are members – Reardon said he’s “been in meetings” with lawmakers about the negative impact of their anti-federal worker, pro-cut plans.
“I try to approach it from a business model perspective,” he explained, pointing out the IRS collects 93 percent of all federal revenues, so any cuts in its budget or staff would increase lost revenue. Those unpaid taxes now stand at $406 billion yearly, the IRS estimates.
And without tax revenue, Reardon told his union members to tell lawmakers, the federal government can’t provide – or pay for – anything else, from air traffic control to border protection to chasing those deadbeat tax evaders. But the right wing doesn’t see it that way.
“They’re not looking at it” – the cuts and federal workers in general – “from a business model perspective. I hear ‘We want to gut federal agencies.’ I have a difficult time with that.”
Instead, Congress’ Republican majority is busily trying both cut federal workers and shunt them aside, he said. GOP solons, notably right wingers in the U.S. House, have introduced, and in one case already passed, proposals that slam federal workers.
One bill abolishes federal reimbursement for workers who take time out to serve as union stewards, solving on-the-job problems in negotiating with management and making the government run more efficiently.
Others include drastic changes, such as conversion of federal employee health care benefits into vouchers, higher worker pension contributions accompanied by pension payout cuts, and – the one that passed – a House rule that lets any lawmaker propose cutting any worker’s pay down to $1 a year, arbitrarily.
The union opposes all of them, while backing legislation to raise feds’ pay by at least 3.2 percent in the year starting Oct. 1.
To fight those changes, and to fight for a decent pay hike for the feds – including its 150,000 members—the NTEU is joining with other federal worker unions, such as the American Federation of Government Employees and a 28-organization coalition of labor, mailers and management formed to preserve the Postal Service.
But NTEU, like the rest of the union movement faces one big problem, Reardon admitted: The approximately 50 percent of unionists who voted for Trump, despite unions’ endorsement and campaigning for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“The fact of the matter is the rhetoric we’re hearing is that entire agencies will be shut down, that they’re coming after your retirement benefits, your health care and your due process rights” on the job. “The people who held a different view” and backed Trump “weren’t thinking of those when they voted. So I’m asking them to have an open mind,” he said.