AFGE's Cox eyes bigger, better union

Thursday - 8/23/2012, 5:11am EDT

J. David Cox, national president, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO

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The new leader of the largest federal labor union wants to make it even bigger.

"Our goal is within the next year to be reaching at least 300,000 dues-paying members and beyond," said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox.

Currently, AFGE has about 277,000 members. Its membership rolls grew significantly in 2011, when the union won the right to represent 45,000 transportation security officers.

J.David Cox, national president, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE)

"Not only will we be continuing our internal organizing mode, increasing the membership in our current units, we will definitely be exploring unrepresented employees and continuing to organize those employees," he told Federal News Radio.

Cox became AFGE's new leader Aug. 16, replacing John Gage. Cox most recently served back-to-back terms as the union's secretary-treasurer, overseeing the expansion of its legislative and political action funds.

Focus on the election, pay and benefits

In addition to growing the size of his union, Cox plans to immediately focus on the November general election by encouraging voters to choose national leaders "who have been strong supporters of federal and D.C. government workers."

"We'll be out there not just with a financial type commitment," he said, "but where we have our greatest commitment is through our membership and boots on the ground, knocking on doors, [and] working in phone banks."

Cox also plans to continue AFGE's push against cuts to federal employee pay and benefits, both topics that have become hot political issues ahead of the election.

"I believe that federal employees have paid more than their fair share on the deficit reduction," he said. "Federal employees have been the well that [has been repeatedly tapped]. And I'm of the opinion that well is dry."

Civilian federal employees have been living under a two-year pay freeze, a measure designed to curb the deficit. In addition, the President has proposed postponing a 0.5 percent pay raise for civilian federal employees until at least April 2013.

Cox does not support using labor contracts to negotiate provisions affecting pay and benefits.

"The place that federal unions bargain pay and benefits is on Capitol Hill," he said. "If you look historically, pay raises, annual leave, sick leave, health insurance, retirement, all those type things, have been AFGE pieces of legislation that we advocated for, got introduced and got passed through Congress. … That's just how we work as a federal employee union."

Cox did say he supports an expansion of bargaining on permissive subjects, such as the number of employee positions within agency components and the means of performing work.

Eight agencies have been pilot testing expanded bargaining on permissive subjects, but with limited success.

J.David Cox gives a speech at this year's AFGE Legislative Convention before being elected the new national president.

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