Unions push back against deficit commission

Thursday - 1/13/2011, 7:33pm EST

By Meg Beasley
Reporter
Federal News Radio

Fifteen federal and employment groups sent a letter to the White House Jan. 13 condemning proposed cuts to federal benefits and pay. One of the most powerful groups to sign the letter is the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). NTEU is the nation's largest independent federal union.

The reductions are part of recommendations made by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The commission also recommended cutting federal civilian retirement health benefits, freeze federal pay and reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent.

The letter, addressed to President Obama on the behalf of "the 4.6 million federal and postal workers and annuitants represented by the national member organizations of the Federal-Postal Coalition" stated that the cuts are unwarranted, unfair and harmful to workers and the country as a whole.

The first proposal the letter rejects is the one to reduce retirement benefits.

"There is no public policy basis to accept the proposed reductions to federal civilian retirement since the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund is fully funded and financially sound," the letter stated.

The coalition argued that the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform overestimated the cost of retirement programs in suggesting the need for the cuts. The letter stated that reducing benefits, and thereby requiring employees to contribute more to their own retirement funds, would amount to a significant pay cut.

The letter also rejected freezing or reducing salaries at a time when a highly professional federal workforce is critical to a functional and safe nation.

"These proposals send the wrong message about public service at a time when it is critical for government to retain and recruit talented and knowledgeable employees to address today's complex challenges," said Colleen Kelley, the president of NTEU, in a news release.

The letter drove Kelley's point home in citing a report by the Office of Personnel Management in October that the salary advantage private-sector workers have over federal employees grew to 24 percent in 2010, 2 percent higher than in 2009.

Not only does the federal workforce need to recruit talent, the coalition argued that it must retain the strong workforce it currently has.

"Cutting the workforce by the proposed 10 percent is "more about politics than good human resource management," the letter stated. "In fact, 60 percent of all federal workers will be eligible to retire in the next five years. We can ill afford to lose our most talented and experienced employees at a time when we are facing unprecedented crises."

Though the Commission's proposal did not win approval in Congress, parts of it could be taken up in the new Congress. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced earlier this week a bill that included 25 of the recommendations of the deficit commission, including many of those that affect federal workers.

The letter also urged President Obama not to include the proposals in his fiscal 2012 budget request.

The unions that signed the letter were:

  • American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
  • Federal Aviation Administration Managers Association (FAAMA)
  • Federal Managers Association (FMA)
  • Federally Employed Women (FEW)
  • International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
  • Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA)
  • National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE)
  • National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)
  • National Association of Postal Supervisors (NAPS)
  • National Association of Postmasters of the United States (NAPUS)
  • National Rural Letter Carriers' Association (NRLCA)
  • National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU)
  • Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS)
  • Professional Managers Association (PMA)

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