Frustrated federal unions plan public appeal

Friday - 7/22/2011, 6:41pm EDT

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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By Emily Kopp
Reporter
Federal News Radio

Federal unions and associations are lobbying hard for Congress to not cut federal workers' salaries, retirement or resources, but they have had few positive results. Now the National Treasury Employees Union is trying a new tactic: a feel-good public campaign.

The PR push includes television and radio spots. One is a montage of federal employees taking their oaths of office. Another features families talking about the federal services that they use.

"It's important that they think about what they want from the federal government, what they expect and the quality of life that they have because of what the federal government does," said NTEU National President Colleen Kelley.

The unions acknowledge that "smaller government" is a popular concept throughout the country, as well as on Capitol Hill. But the resistance boils away when people think about the federal workers in their communities.

"These are working people doing essential services in their communities," said American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage.

Gage said the AFGE is emphasizing that message. Chapters are holding demonstrations in the districts of freshmen lawmakers who advocate for smaller government.

"It's just not good enough to say 'We don't like government,'" Gage said. The AFGE will try to get local media to ask their lawmakers to define their views on the essential services provided by federal workers.

Gage describes his strategy as "a tough leap" because nearly all the versions of legislation that he's heard about include cuts to federal pay, retirement and program resources.

"Everything is on the table, which makes me sick," Gage said.

Although details remain fluid, the following are some of the suggestions being considered by Congress:

  • Requiring workers to increase their pension contributions
  • Basing retirement calculations on the highest five years' salary rather than the highest three
  • Reduced benefits for new hires

These items, if passed into law, could be more damaging to federal workers than failure to raise the national debt ceiling. But unions are frustrated that agencies haven't told them of any contingency plans should Congress and the White House fail to reach an agreement on the federal borrowing limit.

NTEU's Kelley said many federal workers are eligible for retirement and might choose to leave now.

"If a lot of these proposals actually happen, I think it will drive many in the federal workforce out," said Kelley. "Unfortunately, those in Congress who do not respect federal workers want exactly that."

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