From labor leader to House subcommittee chairman

Thursday - 3/5/2009, 7:54am EST

WFED's Max Cacas reports

Past 8 years 'frustrating' for new panel chair

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By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio

Last month, the House Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia, got a new chairman. Yesterday, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D.-Mass.) made his first public appearance as chairman of the panel before the National Treasury Employees Union, which is wrapping up its annual legislative conference here in D.C. today.

Go through any congressional directory, and there's little chance you'll find any members who list "labor leader" as a resume item, but that in fact is what we learned when NTEU President Colleen Kelley introduced Chairman Lynch at Wednesday's legislative conference luncheon.

"He ably served," she said, "for many years as the Ironworkers Union Local 7", which is based in Boston, Massachusetts.

In fact, Lynch joked that not only does he have ties to organized labor, he has ties to one of the federal agencies that is now under the purview of his subcommittee. He admitted that he wondered if he would be given chairmanship of the panel because as many as 17 members of his immediate family, including his mother, work as employees of the U.S. Postal Service.

On a more serious note... Lynch recalled that he was elected to Congress in 2001, and says the last 8 years have been tough for anyone, including a lawmaker, who is a strong advocate for organized labor -- and federal workers.

Since coming to Washington, I've just been frustrated by everything about the past administration. After 9/11, they were determined that security officers at the TSA should not have collective bargaining rights because the work they do is so central to the nation's security, which just stood common sense on its head.

Chairman Lynch says one of his priorities in the coming session will be strengthening protections for federal whistleblowers who disclose evidence of waste, fraud and abuse.

Lynch also says he backs one of NTEU's top priorities - getting collective bargaining rights for workers with the Transportation Security Administration, something opposed outright by the Bush Administration.

He says his subcommittee will hold a markup session later this month for the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which was approved in the House last session, but stalled in the Senate. The bill has been re-introduced in this session.

Following his speech, we talked to Chairman Lynch about a bill he introduced in the House yesterday: HR 1263, the Federal Retirement Reform Act of 2009. The measure calls for the automatic enrollement of new feds in the Thrift Savings Plan, with investments automatically enrolled in the G fund.

While we have a fully funded system, there have been instances in recent history where past administrations have tapped into that fund for various purposes. And I think that federal employees are voicing is a concern that, especially today, with the tremendous pressure on our economy and our government, that it might be looked to again to draw off resources.

Lynch also says he is participating in talks with the White House to re-establish the federal labor-management councils that had been in place during the Clinton Administration, and which were immediately disbanded 8 years ago by the Bush White House.

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