Unions lobby lawmakers to prevent government shutdown

WASHINGTON – With yet another federal government shutdown looming, federal workers’ unions are giving their members advice on how to cope with a sudden halt to their paychecks, lobbying lawmakers to come to their senses and advert the crisis and advocating legislation that would reimburse employees for lost pay if and when the feds return to work.

That’s because political infighting, specifically within Congress’ ruling Republicans, could leave the feds on the outside looking in come Oct. 1, and everyone else without vital government functions and services.

The immediate source of the problem is that the new fiscal year starts that day and Congress not only has not passed any of the regular money bills to keep the government going, it hasn’t even started work on a so-called “continuing resolution” (CR) that would let agencies limp along at last year’s funding levels until solons provide permanent solutions.

And the CR, in turn, is held up because radical right Republicans are insisting that it yank any and all money from Planned Parenthood for women’s health services. Two years ago, the same crowd advocating “an ideological agenda,” unions say, shut down the government for two weeks in an effort to halt funding for implementing the Affordable Care Act.

But even if Congress comes to its senses and passes a CR, it might decide to use federal workers as a “money pot” for budget cuts the GOP advocates or for sequestration – the mandated cuts imposed starting in 2011 — the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal workers’ union, warns.

“Fueling the shutdown is the issue over how the government should be funded. While many in Congress agreed sequestration needs to end, they want to replace sequestration cuts with cuts to federal agencies,” AFGE explained.

“These are the same elected officials who are not willing to close tax loopholes which allow big corporations to avoid paying taxes that could be used to fund various programs that benefit everyone in this country.

“Having to live with constant threats of a government shutdown every year is extremely demoralizing to the federal workforce and damaging the government’s ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest.

“Federal employees have already sacrificed $159 billion. AFGE is working to make sure that any deal that lifts sequestration does not pay for it by cutting federal employees’ pay, health insurance, retirement or benefits any further.”

AFGE and the Treasury Employees, the second-largest federal worker union, are also lobbying lawmakers to enact measures ensuring workers would get back pay when they return to their jobs after the end of a shutdown.

“When the government shut down two years ago, federal employees who were locked out of their jobs were left wondering if they would ever get paid, while those who reported to work didn’t know when they would get paid,” said AFGE President J. David Cox, a retired Veterans Affairs Department nurse.

Legislation to mandate the back pay, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., “would give federal employees peace of mind in knowing that the government will uphold its obligation to pay them in the event of another lockout. The bill would also allow employees with scheduled leave during a shutdown to take that leave,” Cox added.

“Cardin’s proposal would treat federal employees fairly in the event of a government shutdown. Employees who are furloughed or forced to work without pay during a shutdown shouldn’t be punished because they didn’t create the problem,” said Treasury Employees President Tony Reardon. “That said, NTEU is working hard to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1 and ensure that agencies get the funding they need to fulfill their critical missions.”

Congressional Democrats are also urging their GOP rulers to come to their senses.

“There are just five legislative days remaining before the end of the fiscal year, but the House failed to take any action to keep the government open,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “Instead, House Republicans wasted time on legislation attacking women’s health. As they continue to struggle with internal divisions, I urge Republican leaders to work quickly with Democrats to avoid another government shutdown and begin negotiations on a budget agreement to replace the irrational policy of sequestration.”

News reports say the GOP leadership has yet to even talk with the Democrats about provisions in a CR. The Democrats are holding out for a “clean” CR with no extraneous provisions, such as defunding Planned Parenthood or dumping the Iran nuclear agreement.

Those talks might be needed if the rebellious right wingers – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a presidential hopeful, and approximately 30 representatives who call themselves the “Freedom Caucus” — desert the GOP leaders and vote down any funding for the government, over the Planned Parenthood money issue. 

Photo:  Voters in battleground states overwhelmingly oppose shutting down the federal government over the issue of funding for Planned Parenthood. The percentages shown here are for the battleground state of Ohio.   |  Tumblr


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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