Union fights back against proposed cuts to pay and benefits

This story has been updated.

One of the largest federal employee unions is launching a public awareness campaign to lobby against proposals targeting the pay and benefits of government workers and highlight the connection between public service and quality of life in America.

The National Treasury Employees Union on Thursday announced its campaign, which follows rallies in New York, Washington and Detroit, to protest expected increases in federal workers' contributions to government pensions. Other proposals on the table would change the annuity formula for feds and require new employees to contribute more to their retirement and Social Security. The White House and lawmakers reportedly are discussing the increases as part of a debt ceiling deal.

"This is a comprehensive effort on our part to fight back on behalf of federal employees," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said during a Thursday media briefing at the union's headquarters in Washington. The effort includes two public service announcements, which the union has sent to more than 200 television stations and 600 radio stations nationwide. The PSAs, which now are playing in major media markets, feature federal employees talking about the work they do to help protect and serve the public. The theme is Federal Employees: They Work for U.S.

Kelley sent lawmakers a letter Tuesday criticizing efforts to reduce federal pay and benefits as part of a deficit reduction package, calling them "the second major hit to federal employees," to the first hit being the two-year pay freeze currently in effect. "Federal employees didn't cause this crisis and the crisis won't be solved by cuts to federal employees," she wrote.

Last week, NTEU, along with several other federal employee groups, sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner asking them to provide information on continuity of government plans, possible furloughs and the effects on workers' pay and benefits if a default occurs. Kelley said the administration has not responded yet to their request.

James Ruoff, a Customs and Border Protection officer and NTEU president of Local Chapter 153 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, said the proposals targeting pay and benefits and the uncertainty over raising the debt ceiling have had a negative impact on employee morale. "People feel insulted personally," Ruoff said. "There's fear out there and it's due to the lack of answers."

Kelley said she doesn't know for certain whether a debt ceiling deal would contain provisions that will increase employee contributions to their pensions, or even possibly health care premiums. But, she said, "Every conversation we hear has something about federal employees and retirees, that's for sure."

During the past year, lawmakers have announced several deficit reduction proposals that would affect federal pay, retirement and hiring. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Monday unveiled a $9 trillion deficit reduction plan that would extend the current civilian pay freeze, reduce leave benefits and trim the workforce in an effort to cut government spending. The proposal builds on a number of fiscal commission recommendations introduced late last year.

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