Union elects new president

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The largest federal employee union elected a former Veterans Affairs Department nurse as its new president on Wednesday.

J. David Cox, who has been the national secretary-treasurer for the American Federation of Government Employees for the last six years, now assumes the top leadership post at the union. He defeated Alex Bastani, AFGE President of Local 12, which represents Labor Department employees, in a vote held during AFGE’s conference in Las Vegas this week.

Cox, who serves on the Federal Salary Council and the Federal Prevailing Wage Council, replaces retiring AFGE President John Gage. Gage has served as the union’s president since 2003.

According to Cox’s bio on AFGE’s website, the North Carolina native has increased union rolls by more than 52,000 members since he first became national secretary-treasurer in 2006. Before joining the leadership ranks of the union, Cox worked as a registered nurse at the VA for 23 years. He also serves as chair of the AFL-CIO union’s veterans council. AFGE is affiliated with AFL-CIO.

Cox gave a rousing speech to union members during the organization’s legislation conference this past spring in Washington. He criticized congressional efforts to extend the federal pay freeze and increase the amount government workers contribute to their pensions. Cox, while urging members to reelect President Obama, nevertheless, took some shots at the administration’s proposed 0.5 percent pay raise for fiscal 2013. “And now the administration is talking about one-half of one percent,” Cox said. “Now let me say that one more time. This is our friends. One-half of one percent. I believe we all deserve better than that. Do you not believe you deserve more than a half percent? It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, brothers and sisters, if you are trying to drive the living standards of our members down, we’ve got to take you to task and hold you accountable, no matter who and what you are.”

AFGE and other federal employee unions have their work cut out for them. Obama has proposed lifting the pay freeze, but he believes federal workers should pay more for their pensions, for example. Mitt Romney and his GOP running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin favor reducing federal employees’ compensation and shrinking the government workforce through attrition.

AFGE members, along with members of Nevada’s AFL-CIO protested Tuesday outside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas where Ryan attended a fundraiser sponsored by casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

Bastani during the campaign touted his successful efforts to prevent the government from privatizing certain jobs at Labor. An attorney who also works as a local theater actor in the Washington area, Bastani was an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1987 to 2002. He has served as AFGE president of Local 12 since 2006. During a YouTube campaign video, Bastani emphasized fiscal responsibility at the union, and said he would take a pay cut as national AFGE president to show “leadership by example.” Like Cox, he supported Obama but believes the administration needs to be held more accountable for positions affecting federal employees. “I voted for Barack Obama, I campaigned for Barack Obama, but I will not surrender to Barack Obama on important issues like pay and benefits,” Bastani said in the video.

The Washington Post reported earlier that James Brooks, secretary-treasurer of Local 2430, which represents VA employees in Colorado Springs, Colo., also ran in the union’s election for president.

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