ATHENS, Ga. —There are two big new billboards looming over roads near Athens, Ga.
“Why does Rep. Jody Hice want to take pensions from correctional workers?” they ask. “Call 1 (888) 907-3862″ and tell lawmakers “to vote NO on HR1364,” Hice’s bill, the messages say.
The Council of Prison Locals, a sector of the Government Employees (AFGE), paid for the billboards. AFGE warns that Hice’s measure would deprive federal union shop stewards of pension time credit for the hours they spend meeting with management and doing their duties, resolving workplace disputes.
Hice’s bill has yet to come up on the House floor, though the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee approved it on March 8 on a party-line vote. But it’s just the latest shot in a continuing war against federal workers, launched by Congress’ Republican majority, and GOP President Donald Trump.
Prior GOP-pushed legislation, which federal worker unions defeated, deprived the shop stewards of pay. That doesn’t stop the Republicans, who use the feds as whipping boys.
Their war against the workers covers everything from collective bargaining rights on the job — even though federal worker unions such as AFGE and the Treasury Employees cannot bargain over wages and hours — to resurrection of a failed Defense Department plan to privatize thousands of civilian defense jobs and put the rest under a pay system where your pay and your future would be solely up to your boss, with little recourse if you’re wronged.
The latest moves, however, come not from Congress but from the Trump White House: The Republican president’s establishment of an advisory council, filled with corporate CEOs but also with no worker representatives, on how to “reform” the federal workforce, on top of Trump’s executive order freezing federal hiring in many domestic agencies.
All this has left AFGE, NTEU and the National Federation of Federal Employees, a Machinists sector, battling a lot. Fights include:
• All the unions denounced the hiring freeze. NTEU President Tony Reardon told lawmakers it would lead to more use of expensive outside contractors — use that both AFGE and federal auditors have blasted in reports for years. Reardon said as a result of past budget cuts, some agencies already have de facto hiring freezes.
• AFGE is skeptical of Trump’s task force. Witold Skwierczynski, president of the union’s sector that represents Social Security workers, says the execs might push for having disabled workers seeking Supplemental Security Income benefits apply over the Internet. “You can’t do a disability hearing over the Internet,” he told the Washington Post.
So is NFFE. “House Republicans are attempting to force unnecessary changes to the law and undercut federal employees’ rights in the workplace,” the union says. “Current law explicitly prohibits union activities while on official time, including any internal union business, solicitation of new members, election of union officers and any partisan political issues.”
For NFFE shop stewards, “qualifying activity is restricted to government business and is regulated by management, which decides how much official time is reasonable, necessary and valuable to their operations,” it adds. AFGE President J. David Cox has repeatedly made the same point.
• The key to making the government more efficient, Trump’s goal, is training for better — and less-confrontational — management, Reardon testified earlier this year.
“NTEU strongly supports training that teaches these individuals how to lead organizations and people, including how to respectfully manage employees who are high-achievers and those who are struggling with performance,” he said.
“It is important that managers openly discuss performance goals and objectives prior to conducting the performance appraisal, and they are fully aware of the need and methods to reward job performance based on merit, not on favoritism and other personal considerations.
“Additionally, management should be skilled in how to promote employee engagement with frontline workers, who may often be unaware of high-level agency policy, mission, and funding changes and challenges,” Reardon noted. And managers should be trained about barred personnel practices and how to address reports of retaliation against whistleblowers.
• Hice’s bill lets federal managers retaliate against worker whistleblowers, because the stewards could be hamstrung defending them. And that’s just one harm, AFGE warns.
“Union reps usually work on several cases at the same time, and management agrees on how much time can be used for this agency business. This legislation would…set an arbitrary cap without taking into consideration individual agency working conditions or needs.”
The stewards “are never off doing union work or union time. They are doing agency work resolving employee concerns. That’s why it’s called ‘official time.’ Without it, lawmakers… knew employee concerns would never get addressed properly if employees had to go off the clock to meet with management about agency business.”
• A think tank in D.C. revived the Defense Department’s George W. Bush-era pay plan, which federal unions spent years battling — successfully — in court and in Congress.
“The importance of maintaining a nonpartisan, apolitical civil service in an increasingly partisan environment cannot be overstated,” Cox told the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “Calls to make it easier to fire a federal employee by decreasing due process rights or speeding up the removal process are ‘dog whistles’ for making the career service subject to the partisan or personal whims of a few supervisors or political appointees.”