Union feds march against scapegoating

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February 8, 2011 (Photo courtesy AFGE)
By Meg Beasley
Reporter
Federal News Radio

One thousand federal employees took their case to Capitol Hill Tuesday. Members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) marched to the Senate office buildings to put a face on the federal workforce.

"We are not these high-dollar paid people that a lot of people think federal employees are," said Wayne Marion, president of the AFGE Local 331 at the Perry Point, Md. Veterans Affairs healthcare system. "We are working class people. We are taxpayers. We are the American people that make this country run."

Marchers held signs and chanted, "They say take back - we say push back!", and "What time is it? Union time!", as they crossed the Upper Senate Park and gathered outside Russell office building.

AFGE and several other employee unions are concerned that lawmakers are blaming federal employees for the country's deficit and other government problems. AFGE president John Gage said the "baseless, un-factual verbal attacks" are the worst he has seen in his 20-year career representing government workers.

Many AFGE members said Congress is to blame for the misperception.

"Some of the lawmakers are looking at federal employees as a scapegoat, as part of the problem rather than part of the solution that we are," said Dan Doyle, a Department of Energy employee and president of AFGE Local 1995 in Morgantown, W.Va. "They need to realize that we are the critical infrastructure for this nation's government and that attacking federal employees is hurting that infrastructure."

Others said it didn't matter where the attacks came from - they simply need to be corrected.

AFGE members divided into agencies and retook their oath of service to the government. Many marchers then went into Russell to deliver petitions from their Locals.

The march was part of AFGE's annual legislative conference, going on this week in Washington. Union members are concerned about several issues before Congress including the pay freeze, possible furloughs, and potential cuts to the Federal Health Benefits Program, retirement benefits and union representation.

Some feds made individual visits to their representatives. Aquilla Brock, president of AFGE Local 2488 in Fort Worth, Texas, spoke with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) before the march.

"We explained that we were not happy with the freeze and what they are doing to us," Brock said. "He indicated to us that they're broke, and we indicated back to him that we're broke, too.

Alma Lee, president of AFGE's national Veteran Affairs council said the pay freeze was unjust, and she wanted to make sure all federal employees - including members of Congress - were affected.

Many members were concerned with union representation.

The Transportation Security Administration Feb. 4 gave Transportation Security Officers the ability to vote on whether they want partial bargaining rights. TSOs at the march said they want full rights, which require an act of Congress.

After this week's conference, AFGE members will return to their communities to continue humanizing the federal workforce.

Gage said AFGE already has begun working with other unions nationwide. They will hold media and outreach events to educate the public about the harm they say Congress is doing to feds and the entire country.

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