Unions mobilize members to fight federal lockout

Unions representing locked out government workers are mobilizing members to urge leaders of the US House of Representatives to allow a vote on a Senate resolution that will end the shutdown of the federal government.

More than 800,000 federal workers have been locked out since the shutdown began on October 1.

The shutdown is the latest blow to a federal workforce charged with protecting lives and property, ensuring the health of the nation, providing essential social services, and promoting the quality of life.

David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said that federal workers have endured the brunt of the sacrifices caused by “manufactured” budget crises.

Federal workers’ pay has been frozen for three years, last spring federal workers were furloughed to help pay for the sequestration budget cuts, and they are constantly confronted with the possibility of permanent layoffs.

Now because a minority members within in the House of Representatives whose goal, according to Cox, is “anybody’s  guess,” have refused to vote on a Senate resolution that would keep the government operating, half the government workforce has been locked out and the other half is expected to work without a paycheck.

AFGE is mobilizing locals across the country to organize members to attend meetings with members of Congress to urge them to support an up or down vote on the Senate resolution.

AFGE members and other unionized federal workers will be at an October 4 rally in Washington organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

In urging members to attend October 4 rally,  Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), said that federal employees have suffered enough.

“Federal employees have mortgages and kids in college and elderly family members that need care,” said Kelley. “Because of the sequester cuts, which were also the result of this Congress not doing its job, many of them have already been sent home from work without pay over the last few months. And now, they are out of work and don’t know when they will be able to go back to do the important work they do for the public.”

In addition to supporting an up or down vote on the Senate resolution, NTEU is mobilizing members to support H.R. 3223, a bill that the House of Representatives will take up on October 4.

If passed, the bill will ensure that furloughed workers will be paid once they are allowed to return to work.

“Remind your members of Congress that you have already had your pay frozen for three straight years and many of your colleagues have been required to pay more toward their retirement benefits,” said a message to members on the NTEU website. “Moreover, many of you have been furloughed several days this year already as a result of sequestration.”

What is sometimes lost in the media coverage of the shutdown is the important services that federal employees provide and the impact that the shutdown is having on these services.

At a recent media conference on the shutdown carried by C-Span, some furloughed employees explained the impact.

Amy Fritz of the National Weather Service builds computer models that helps predict and track tropical storms and hurricanes.

“I can’t go to work now,” said Fritz. “It’s hurricane season and if something should happenI can’t do my job.”

Fritz, who holds two masters degrees, said that without a paycheck, she will have a hard time repaying $130,000 in student loans she took out to finance her education.

Marcello Del Canto, a budget analyst for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, said that because of the shutdown, millions of people who need substance abuse and mental health services can’t get them today.

Carter Kinsey, a scientist with the National Science Foundation, said that she is proud to be a federal employee, but that the shutdown and other recent sacrifices demanded of federal employees is “very discouraging.”

She is concerned that the sequestration and shutdown will make federal work unattractive to highly qualified people like those with whom she works.

Steve Hopkins of the Environmental Protection Agency said that he went into government work to provide a service mandated by Congress, but now he can’t do it because a minority in Congress won’t act to end the shutdown.

He added that recent furloughs at his agency caused by sequestration cost employees an average of $2,500.

“President Obama has promised that he will not negotiate to end this crisis, and we strongly support that position,” said AFGE’s Cox. “Recent similar standoffs have been resolved largely on the backs of federal employees, taking away our pay, retirement, and jobs.  This time, we expect the administration to hold firm, and resist the temptation to give in by cutting federal retirement or Social Security.  There is no justification for using federal employees to pay ransom.”