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OPM Director John Berry Discusses Employee Concerns, Fiscal Cliff with National Executive Council

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John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management stopped by AFGE national headquarters this afternoon and addressed several concerns by district and union leaders about fairness towards employees, insubordination, and the looming “fiscal cliff”. The National Executive Council meeting was led by AFGE National President J. David Cox, Sr. who kept Berry focused on answering lingering concerns by employees that have yet to be adequately addressed. Several newly elected district leaders were also present at the meeting and offered a passionate call to action to both OPM and the Obama Administration as it moves into it’s second term.

With the “fiscal cliff” less than a month away and over $100 million dollars in the legally mandated sequester scheduled to kick in on January 2, 2013, the first priority at the NEC meeting was clear. Berry suggested the issue will be best resolved with the 2014 federal budget as government agencies across the board work out the best possible plan that works for management, employees, and the American people themselves. However, budget talks have been tabled as Congress hashes out a deal. The Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense (in which, half of the planned cuts are to come) are the key players within the government deciding the impact of the sequester, but Berry announced that the ball is really in Congress’ court.

“It’s important to remember that first and foremost a deal is possible; I don’t think we have to worry about this,” said Berry. If a decision is not reached before Christmas or the January deadline, all agencies must submit their plan of action to Congress by the end of January. Reiterating that the sequester is not the same as a government shutdown, Berry suggested that lawmakers will have until the end of that month to come up with an alternative deal.

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“You always have an open door with me,” said Berry at the meeting. President Cox explained, “We want full MSB rights for our members of the TSA.” When asked if he could guarantee that could happen he remarked “a big part of today is, I’m here to listen”, causing a brief chuckle from the members. “Where’s my pen?”, said Berry. With the heads of several locals present, they addressed MSB rights and ULPs.

“We need someone to hold managers accountable as it’s a wasting of taxpayer money if we file ULPs but agencies keep doing same thing,” said National Vice President Arnold R. Scott of District 6.

Berry pledged to address this as well as concerns that President Barack Obama’s executive orders are not being adequately being followed, especially in regards to political appointees attaining longer and permanent positions. Berry reiterated the president’s commitment to his executive orders and said the agency is moving from a reactionary stance on the matter to one that outsmarts the offenders.

“We don’t just send letters, we meet with them at the White House and layout what changes we expect from them,” said Berry. “This has worked in most cases.”

Berry, one of the President’s first openly-gay political appointees, was also questioned over the sharing of benefits between same-sex and domestic partnerships. The OPM Director said that he and President Obama strongly support the idea, but admitted that they are constrained by Congress until there is a change to the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I have a partner who pays 100%  into (his health insurance) and we’ve been together for 16 years and he’s not going anywhere,” Berry said. “I get this issue and I hear about this every night.”

Pressing further, one representative asked, “So for Christmas 2013 then.” Berry, replied “Yes, I hope so.”

As the administration moves into it’s second term there are many changes expected not only in agency leadership, but in how the government is run internally. With a recent report by OPM showing severe declines in morale amongst federal employees across the board, change is urgently needed.

“Let’s wait until the new team is in place before we act,” said Berry. “I would hate to have the ink still wet from a really good deal, before a new team comes in and you have to start from scratch.”

One local president from West Point, countered, keeping Berry and OPM’s feet to the fire.

“Gone are the days of union activists and obstructionists; I think we can do this by sitting down and hashing this out if we’re allowed to,” he said. “But it’s getting pretty darn frustrating.”

You can find more photo’s of today’s meeting on our AFGE Photostream on flickr.

President Cox Joins Union Volunteers in Labor Walk for Elizabeth Warren Campaign

IMPORTANT: You may view this post using your home email on your personal computer, smart phone, or other electronic device when not on government property. BUT, this information should not be downloaded using government equipment, read during duty time, or sent to others using government equipment, because it involves taking an election related action and could be a violation of the Hatch Act.

Calling the election of Elizabeth Warren vital to the strength of the federal workforce, J. David Cox  Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), was in Massachusetts Saturday to “walk, knock and talk” to help Warren in her bid for the U.S. Senate. Many other union staffers and volunteers from AFGE and the Greater Boston Labor Council joined President Cox.

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AFGE President J. David Cox Speaks on the Future of the Government Workforce

AFGE National President J. David Cox spoke Wednesday, Oct. 24 at a panel discussion addressing federal employees. Cox launched a passionate and sincere defense of federal employees, spelling out their contributions to our country and offering a message of compromise as the nation works to right itself amid rising deficits and a challenging economy. Cox joined Donald Kettl, Dean of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and Barbara Patboy, Associate Chief Human Capital Officer at the Treasury Department in a discussion about the future of the government workforce. The event was hosted by the American Society for Training & Development at its 2012 Learning Innovations Conference.

Recalling the fights over the years to balance the budget, protect programs such as social security and medicare, and continue the advancement of civil rights , Cox called for a return to the process of compromise, respect, and dignity that is often lacking in government today. As a former federal employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Cox recalled the years he spent working not only taking pride in what he did, but knowing that each individual he helped was an effort to support our country. He called for government workers to take pride in their work and not to be discouraged by recent political sentiment towards them.

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“I wouldn’t be here today without my first grade teacher who taught me to read and write, who was a public employee,” said Cox. “And when taxes come out of my check year after year, I’m happy that I could repay her for the service she’s done to better my life.”

The value of public service is often denigrated in the national conversation. Mr. Cox called for federal employees to champion the hard work they do in their day-to-day lives in order to re-frame the discussion from scapegoating federal employees to finding legitimate long-term solutions to the issues facing the nation.

In addressing our fiscal instability, the function of the various agencies and departments of the government must not and should not be compromised, said Cox. In recent years, federal employees have endured pay freezes, prompts to pay more into healthcare while receiving less benefits and job insecurity. Cox is calling for an end to the demonization and an appreciation for those who are proud to make America work.

Will OMB Finally Ask the Richest Federal Contractors to Also Make Sacrifices?

The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA)  recently ran a piece, by AFGE National President J. David Cox,  on  the union’s concerns that federal contractors have yet to pay their fair share in efforts to balance the  federal budget. Read the story below.

Will OMB Finally Ask the Richest Federal Contractors to Also Make Sacrifices?

J. David Cox, Sr.

J. David Cox, Sr., is the National President of the American Federation of Government Employees.

President Obama recently told federal employees that he would postpone an excessively modest fiscal year 2013 pay raise of 0.5 percent until at least April 2013. This would not be the first sacrifice federal employees have made during the Obama Administration to reduce the deficit. The current, unprecedented two-year federal pay freeze will produce $60 billion in savings over ten years. The Unemployment Insurance extension legislation enacted in January took another $15 billion from new federal and postal employees in increased pension contributions for a current total of $75 billion in savings over ten years. Whether the 2013 pay adjustment is the president’s proposed 0.5 percent raise or another freeze, the additional savings to the government will be $28-30 billion.

The total sacrifice by federal employees works out to at least $103-$105 billion over ten years. Of course, this does not include the massive downsizing in federal employment that we expect will result from the discretionary spending caps in the ruinous Budget Control Act. No other discrete group of Americans has been asked to sacrifice more than federal employees—whether they be Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) nursing assistants who care for our wounded warriors, Border Patrol agents who guard our borders, depot workers who repair sophisticated military hardware, labor inspectors who keep our workplaces safe, or Social Security workers who ensure that our elderly receive the benefits they deserve.

No sacrifices, even remotely comparable, have been asked of contractors. Currently, contractors in the Department of Defense (DOD) can charge taxpayers up to $760,000 annually for the compensation of a single employee. For the non-DOD agencies, only the top five most lavishly compensated employees at a contractor are bound by that cap; all other contractor employees can be compensated in excess of the cap. Since 1998, the compensation cap applicable to government contracts has more than doubled, from an egregious $340,650 in 1998 to an unconscionable $693,951 in 2010, which was then raised to its current obscene level in April. Over the last dozen years, the level of taxpayer-reimbursement to contractors for their compensation has risen 53 percent faster than the rate of inflation. The April raise was a 10 percent increase for contractors—at the same time military personnel received a mere 1.7 percent pay raise and federal employees received none at all. Of course, contractors often actually make millions of dollars per year because their firms richly supplement the already generous compensation provided by taxpayers with fees and profits earned on federal contracts.

Overcompensation to contractors is even more outrageous from the standpoint of taxpayers. It has been reliably estimated that the imposition of a $200,000 cap on compensation to all federal service contractors would result in savings to taxpayers of more than $50 billion over ten years. In other words, taxpayers would still compensate contractors generously—as much as a cabinet secretary, including the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of Homeland Security—without any reduction in services, but at a tremendous savings by rationalizing manifestly excessive compensation to the richest 1 percent of contractors during a time of severe austerity. Only in Washington, DC—where the policy-making process has been so corrupted by money and influence—could such a proposal not be quickly adopted. Despite heroic efforts by Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY), the House Rules Committee has declined to make in order his floor amendments to the defense authorization bill, both last year and this year, to more reasonably cap contractor compensation. And procedural obstacles have prevented Representative Tonko from offering such common-sense floor amendments to the last two defense appropriations bills.

Fortunately, the Senate has been more active. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offered a floor amendment to the FY 2012 Defense Authorization bill, which was accepted without any opposition, which would have capped annual taxpayer reimbursement for contractor compensation at $400,000. In the conference report, her amendment was significantly watered down. Ultimately, the cap was not reduced. However, it was extended to cover all DOD contractors, although scientists and engineers could be exempted from the cap, entirely at DOD’s discretion. Thanks to Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the FY 2013 defense authorization bill includes a provision that would cap compensation for defense contractors at $230,000. Thanks to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), the FY 2013 Financial Services Appropriations Bill would cap compensation for all contractors at $400,000. Both the Manchin and Durbin provisions would retain exemptions for contractor scientists and engineers. Given that many of the best and most accomplished scientists and engineers in the world work for the federal government for far more modest compensation, it is clear that the work performed by exempted contractor scientists and engineers should be seriously considered for insourcing. Nevertheless, the exemptions eliminate a key argument against the imposition of a more reasonable cap—that more modest taxpayer reimbursements would deny the federal government specialized services.

The House versions of the FY 2013 Defense Authorization and Financial Services Appropriations measures do not include provisions comparable to the Manchin and Durbin caps, so whether contractors will finally be required to sacrifice in the name of budget reduction will be decided by House-Senate conferences. The position taken by OMB will likely be determinative. Historically, OMB has sided with the top 1 percent of contractors, endorsing a cap for only the five most lavishly compensated employees at each firm, which would leave the vast majority of contractors completely uncapped. Will OMB continue to insist that the top 1 percent of service contractors essentially not be required to make any sacrifices towards balancing the budget; that thousands upon thousands of contractors may continue to charge taxpayers annually for hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation; and that a DVA nursing assistant on the night shift who makes less than $35,000 annually, deserves no pay increase at the same time contractors have been given a 10 percent pay increase?

Tim Kaine Speaks to AFGE on Federal Workplace Issues

Former Virginia Governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine and AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and many other federal, postal employee and worker organizations heard from former Virginia Governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine in a town hall meeting last night in Arlington. At the meeting, attended by over 100 people, Kaine discussed critical workplace issues directly impacting federal employees including budget cuts, the impact of sequestration and social security.

The event consisted of a forum and was hosted by the Federal-Postal Coalition as a part of their new campaign “America Counts on Us.” At the forum, federal workers and Virginia residents could meet face-to-face with the candidate and ask him questions.   Before taking questions from the audience, Kaine highlighted the importance of federal workers and said, “Our public employees are a very integral part of a government by and for the people.”

During the town hall, Kaine tackled many issues, but specifically focused on his approach to budget cuts and how his tactic on this issue differs from George Allen, his opponent in the Virginia Senate race.  While Allen maintains an all-cuts approach, Kaine supports a balancing of budget and revenue cuts approach.

“An all-cuts approach is a way of weakening our social fabric and our economy,” said Kaine.  “I’ve got a good track record of sharing budget cuts all around and not demonizing federal workers.”

Kaine also focused on how sequestration cuts could lead to a loss of federal jobs, his support of the “Affordable Care Act” and how social security does not contribute to the federal budget deficit.

AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox said that the town hall meeting was a great opportunity for union members and constituents to hear a candidate talk about union issues.

“It is refreshing to see a candidate for political office participating in a forum specifically for federal workers and retirees—the people who make America run,” said Cox.  “Federal employees, especially postal service employees, are unjustly attacked in these harsh economic times, and it’s more important than ever for people to understand and stand by them.”

The town hall took place at a community center in Arlington and was attending by leading federal employees from AFGE, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and others.  George Allen was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.

J. David Cox honored with prestigious public service award

The American Federation of Government Employees’ National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox received the prestigious 2012 Yitzhak Rabin Public Service Award at a dinner in his honor on Wednesday, May 9, 2012. The award was presented by the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center (AFYRC) and honors those whose work reflects the legacy of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“It has been a labor of love representing VA employees, federal employees, D.C. government employees and, of course, my union, the American Federation of Government Employees, for the past 26 years. The recognition of our union’s work to provide federal workers with job dignity, fair pay and adequate working conditions is an affirmation for AFGE that echoes Prime Minister Rabin’s belief in the labor movement,” said AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox.

The award dinner included a video tribute from President Bill Clinton and speeches from Yitzhak Rabin Center Chair Dalia Rabin, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, Laborers’ International Union of North America General President Terry O’Sullivan, AFGE National President John Gage and AFGE National Vice President for Women’s and Fair Practices Augusta Thomas.

The AFYRC is a non-profit organization that supports the mission of the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. The Center is the official memorial to the slain Prime Minister Rabin, who dedicated his life to peace, leadership and public service.

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The American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center to Honor AFGE National Leader

AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox to receive 2012 Yitzhak Rabin Public Service Award

The American Federation of Government Employees’ National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox was recently selected to receive the prestigious 2012 Yitzhak Rabin Public Service Award. This award is presented by the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center (AFYRC) honoring those whose work reflects the legacy of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“It has been a labor of love representing VA employees, federal employees, D.C. government employees and, of course, my union, the American Federation of Government Employees, for the past 26 years. The recognition of our union’s work to provide federal workers with job dignity, fair pay and adequate working conditions is an affirmation for AFGE that echoes Prime Minister Rabin’s belief in the labor movement,” said AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox.

The AFYRC is a non-profit organization that supports the mission of the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. The Center is the official memorial to the slain Prime Minister Rabin, who dedicated his life to peace, leadership and public services. Rabin served as an ambassador to the United States and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. The center, which is based on the model of the American Presidential Library, includes the Israeli Museum, archives and library, and educational wing and public space. Through its  educational programs, it is taking an active role teaching the lessons of the assassination and promoting international leadership development, public dialogue and tolerance.

Stuart Davidson, Chair of the AFYRC, said “At a time when government workers are under attack, it is important to celebrate the invaluable contributions of public employees in our communities. Certainly AFGE and J. David Cox are symbols of the contributions made to our society by your members.”

Past honorees of the award include Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America; Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers; Terry O’Sullivan, General President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America; James P. Hoffa, President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Barbara Easterling, President of Alliance for Retried Americans. Advisory board members of the AFYRC include former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, and Martin Indyk, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings and former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

A dinner in honor of NST Cox will be held on May 9, 2012. For more information on the AFYRC visit their website at www.friendsofrabin.org. To learn more about NST Cox and AFGE please visit www.afge.org.  For information about the dinner, please contact CoxDinner@Friendsof Rabin.org.

AFGE Celebrates National Nurses Week with Renewed Fight to Strengthen Voice at Work for Federal Health Care Professionals

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is proud to honor the work of nurses throughout the federal government as it celebrates National Nurses Week, May 6–May 12. AFGE represents thousands of nurses nationwide at VA medical centers, military hospitals, federal correctional facilities and other federal health care sites. These dedicated health care professionals are on the front lines every day delivering specialized, high quality care to patients of all ages with complex medical and mental health needs.

A strong voice in the workplace is essential to the ability of federal sector nurses to deliver safe, quality care, and also is a valuable recruitment and retention tool for employers. AFGE applauded the Obama administration for its December 2009 Executive Order on Labor-Management Forums (E.O. 13522) that serves as an effective antidote to anti-union labor relations that exclude the input of front-line workers. Sadly, some federal employers retain policies that weaken the voice at work of health care professionals. AFGE is responding on multiple fronts to change these counterproductive policies. For example, AFGE and the National VA Council are pursuing legislation to restore full and equal bargaining rights for registered nurses and other Title 38 health care professionals at the VA. The VA continues to impose policies from the prior administration that prevent VA health care professionals from bargaining over routine workplace matters such as schedules, reassignment, and proper payment for weekend and evening work. This extreme and unreasonable interpretation of the law is not what Congress intended when it passed Section 7422 of Title 38 in 1991.

“This overly broad interpretation of the law has made it extremely difficult for the VA to recruit and retain qualified health care professionals,” said AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox. “Management has distorted the intent of this law, silencing employees’ ability to fully exercise their rights. This only hinders the agency’s ability to maintain excellence in care and honor the trust between health care professionals and the veterans they serve.” AFGE and its National VA Council appreciate the leadership of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Representative Bob Filner (D-Calif.) in introducing legislation again this year to permit bargaining over compensation matters other than setting pay.

Federal nurse issues also are addressed through the AFGE Nurse Steering Committee, led by AFGE District 8 National Vice President Jane Nygaard. The Steering Committee convenes monthly to address legislative and legal concerns, and disseminate information to AFGE members and lawmakers. Bargaining rights for VA nurses has been a top issue for the committee, along with legislation to provide true overtime for nurses within the Bureau of Prisons and Department of Defense, safe patient handling and ensuring safe staffing levels for nurses who work throughout the federal government.

“This committee plays a vital role in organizing our members and highlighting the unique challenges faced by nurses nationwide,” said Nygaard.  “We will continue to move forward, especially legislatively, to address issues that will strengthen nurses’ voices at work.”

To commemorate National Nurses Week AFGE has launched radio ads in select markets around the country that highlight the work of America’s nurses. The two ads, narrated by Cox and Nygaard, urge listeners to honor the work of our nation’s nurses and support their voice at work within the VA.

Click here to listen to the radio ads.

VA Healthcare Professionals Collective Bargaining Bill Clears First Hurdle

      

AFGE Applauds Senator Sherrod Brown’s Leadership

 AFGE Praises Leadership of Sen. Brown                

 (WASHINGTON) – Today, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved legislation clarifying the right of VA health care professionals to grieve and negotiate over some compensation disputes. The committee’s vote was cheered by the American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE, which represents over 200,000 VA employees, most of whom work in the Veterans Healthcare Administration, VHA.                 

 The union applauded Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who introduced the language as an amendment at the August 5th mark up of the Senate VA Committee. Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Arlen Specter (D-PA),  Roland Burris (D-IL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jim Webb, (D-VA),  Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Begich (D-AK), signed on to the legislation as cosponsors.                  

 “VA health care professionals are committed men and women, who have chosen to dedicate their careers serving those who’ve sacrificed for our nation,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary-treasurer and a former VA nurse for over 23 years. “They deserve the ability to seek redress when pay laws and regulations are not followed, just like their counterparts in other federally-run medical facilities.”                  

 Under current law, VA health care professionals classified as Title 38 employees, do not have the same rights as their counterparts in the Department of Defense or Bureau of Prisons to use their bargaining rights to enforce pay laws and regulations. The current law hampers VA doctors, dentists, registered nurses, physicians’ assistants, chiropractors, optometrists, podiatrists, and dental auxiliaries from exercising their collective bargaining rights when management withholds overtime or weekend premium pay, or wage survey data or does not properly implement performance pay systems enacted by Congress.                  

 Senator Brown’s amendment will allow unions representing Title 38 VA employees to negotiate over some compensation matters, similar to the bargaining rights of Title 5 VA and DoD clinicians. Contrary to some claims put forth by the agency, however, the amendment does not give employees the right to bargain over basic rates of pay, which are set by Congress.                  

  “This bill is not and will never be about interfering with Congress’ right to set federal pay,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE’s National VA Council. “It is entirely about allowing VA healthcare professionals to exercise their congressionally mandated rights to bargain over other types of compensation.”                  

 In addition to providing equity between Title 38 VA health care professionals and their counterparts in other agencies, the legislation will level the playing field for Title 38 and Title 5 employees in the same agency. Without passage of this legislation, VA employees working side by side lack equal rights. For example, registered nurses cannot enforce their rights to overtime pay while licensed practical nurses have that right. Likewise, VA psychiatrists have no recourse when pay rules are violated, yet VA psychologists working in the same mental health settings have the ability to exercise their collective bargaining rights under Title 5.                  

 The bill could also have benefits with respect to the VA’s ability to recruit and retain quality talent. “In the fierce marketplace for top talent, the VA must be able to compete with the lure of the private sector, where pay and benefits far exceed those in the federal government” said Cox.                  

 “If employees cannot force the VA to comply with the pay laws and regulations that are in place Local VA human resources personnel will continue to abuse ambiguity in the law, undermining the VA’s ability to be a competitive employer,” said Lee.                  

 The legislation will now be sent to the full Senate for a vote. Companion legislation HR 5543 was previously introduced in the House VA Committee by Chairman Bob Filner, (D-CA). The House VA Committee plans to hold a hearing on the legislation following the summer recess.                  

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