Unions urge feds to call Congress to stop shutdown

Monday - 4/4/2011, 4:14pm EDT

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Two federal employee unions want their members' voices to be heard in the face of a potential government shutdown April 9.

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) are asking their members to hold a national "Federal Employee Call-In Day" on April 5 when workers will call their members of Congress and ask them to avoid a government shutdown at all costs.

"In the event of a shutdown there would be some very serious impacts on the public and one of the most imminent ones would be the delay in processing of the tax refunds," said Colleen Kelley, NTEU's president, in a Monday conference call with reporters.

"A shutdown would deprive taxpayers of the assistance they need from IRS employees to meet their tax obligations this filing season," she said. "You hear a lot when there is talk of shutdowns about closing of national parks and museums and those are important, but there are very serious consequences that are too often not talked about. We think of some very serious ones like cut back in capacity of the Food and Drug Administration to inspect food, drugs and medical devices. It's possible we could see impacts on border security and transportation since it's unclear which employees will be considered essential."

Bill Dougan, president of NFFE, said federal employees are just the tip of the impact iceberg.

"With 85 percent of the federal workforce outside of the Washington, D.C. area, communities across the country would feel the pinch of a government shutdown," he said. "A recent report by Goldman Sachs found that the government provides about $8 billion per week in spending, and cutting off government spending would reduce the real GDP growth by 0.8 percent at annualized rate in the quarter it occurred. A longer shutdown would be more devastating to small communities that depend on the local Veterans Affairs hospital or the Army base or the Forest Service office as a major employer."

NTEU and NFFE are providing members with phone numbers to all members of Congress as well as a script of what to say. The script is optional, Kelley said.

"The message that we want to send is that Congress must do its job for federal employees to do their jobs," she said. "It's as simple as that. I think phone calls from thousands of federal employees can change the debate on this issue. Federal employees understand better than anybody the detrimental impact that a government shutdown and unrealistic budget cuts are going to have on the critical services that the American public expects from them and on the fragile economic recovery."

NTEU and NFFE also have invited other federal unions to join the national call-in day.

Unions taking proactive steps

The other large federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) started running radio ads last week with 100 stations in 24 cities trying to explain what a shutdown would mean to the citizens. AFGE also issued a 16-page shutdown guide trying to answer questions for federal employees.

NTEU and NFFE also are preparing for a shutdown by setting up a website with news and information about a possible shutdown.

NTEU and NFFE say employees should make phone calls or send emails on their own time and not from federal computers or smartphone devices.

NTEU's legislative and political director Maureen Gilman said the Hatch Act doesn't come into play during this effort. The Hatch Act only deals with electoral politics.

"This is about an issue that impacts them and they have a right to do," Kelley said. "The message is they're calling their members of Congress to come to a quick and reasonable compromise that avoids a government shutdown and provides adequate funding to the agencies so they can carry on their missions of serving the American public. It's a very clear message about funding and their agency. It's focused at every elected member of Congress who will be voting on these issues."

Kelley and Dougan couldn't estimate the likelihood of a shutdown actually occurring.

Is a deal close?

Lawmakers seemed close to an agreement last week to cut $33 billion from the rest of the fiscal 2011 budget. But no agreement has been reached yet and under the current House rules, any bill must be available to members at least 72 hours before debate and a vote happens. This rule would require the House to have a bill in place by Tuesday night at the latest.