Hundreds of public-sector employees gathered with their unions outside the U.S. Capitol Building Tuesday for a rally against the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
Representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees, a federal workers union, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which covers state and local workers, spoke to the crowd and instructed supporters to demand an alternative solution from Congress.
“We have to end this sequestration madness right now,” said J. David Cox, president of AFGE. “It hurts government workers, it hurts the American public, it hurts everyone.”
Citing a common refrain from the event’s speakers, he added: “This is about jobs, not job loss. The only people who need job loss are the [lawmakers] who support sequestration.”
A half dozen speakers addressed the crowd of people dancing to music and waving “Sink the Sequestration” signs. Union leaders led the energized workers in chants such as “Jobs, not cuts!” and “What time is it? Union time!”
The speeches emphasized the importance public-sector workers play in the everyday lives of Americans.
“We’re here to stand up for public services that have been cut to the bone,” said AFSCME president Lee Saunders. “Not just here in Washington, D.C., but across this country. We’re here because somebody’s got to stand up for what’s right.”
Pam Baca, an AFGE official who represents Social Security Administration employees, said budget cuts would deny her the ability to help ordinary citizens.
“We need reasonable solutions that…allow us to take care of the American people,” she said, “because that’s what we do best.”
Cox, the AFGE president, said the rally was part of a three-step effort. Union representatives had scheduled meetings on Capitol Hill leading up to and following the event, alleging every lawmaker in the House and Senate would be covered. Cox also planned to alert the American public to what he called an over dependence on contractors, saying the government can save money by utilizing federal employees more often. Finally, he hoped to protect federal employees through ongoing negotiations with agencies.
Alex Bastani, a local AFGE president who represents 3,300 Labor Department employees, said the demonstration would help get these messages across.
“Millions of people will suffer if we go through sequestration,” he said. “[This] helps to put a face on it.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., an outspoken federal employee supporter, was scheduled to address the crowd but arrived late due to a scheduling mix up. In a post-rally interview, he said allowing the sequester to go into effect -- which will happen March 1 unless an alternative plan is agreed to -- would be “reckless.”“There’s been so much demagoguery in Washington against federal employees,” Van Hollen said, adding feds have already contributed more than their fair share. “These are middle-class Americans.”