Some 200 activists from the National Treasury Employees Union took to the western front of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to chant their demands for higher pay and more respect from lawmakers, four of whom joined the rally.
“What do we want? Fair Pay! When do we want it? Now!” shouted the demonstrators, who came from 39 states and represent 17 federal agencies at the union’s legislative conference which begins Friday. With many at the rally carrying signs reading “No More Cuts!,” participants called for a 3.3 percent pay raise in 2015 and chanted with the help of a bullhorn, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, sequestration’s got to go.”
“The group that came the farthest traveled by bus all night from Covington, Kentucky -- now, that’s commitment,” said NTEU National President Colleen Kelley.
Stating that federal workers have already contributed $138 billion toward deficit reduction, Kelley noted that while the three-year federal pay freeze ended in January, locality pay has been frozen for four years, leaving employees who aspire to be middle class deep in a hole. “As long as some in Congress go after our pay and benefits and resist cuts to contractors, we plan to keep on fighting,” she said. “To those politicians who don’t value federal employees, we have many friends in Congress.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduced as having scored 100 percent on NTEU issue votes and having led the battle for retroactive pay following last October’s government shutdown, called federal workers “the best government workers in the world. But my colleagues have a strange way of saying thanks,” Cardin said. “We want them to not only stop fooling around with pay and benefits but to strengthen pay and benefits. It’s time we showed respect for federal workers. NTEU, we need your individual voices and we need your collective voices!”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., encouraged the crowd to “join up, pair up, and speak up. It’s a cold day, and you are here to turn up the heat,” he said. “Federal workers do what we in that ivory palace behind me said we want done, but we don’t give you the resources to get it done.”
Hoyer recalled that when the pay freeze first took effect [in 2011] he was willing to go along with it as a shared sacrifice. But by its third year, he said, the recession has eased and private sector wages were up. The 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act, Hoyer said, requires that federal pay remain competitive with the private sector. “Private-sector pay in recent years has gone up 6 percent, but federal pay has gone up only 1 percent,” he said.
The Maryland lawmaker admonished Republicans in Congress, saying, “The American people want an efficient, right-sized government, they don’t want no government.”
Similarly, Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., told the crowd that “the public depends on you and doesn’t want to make you a scapegoat.” He said the American people “care deeply about reining in influence of Wall Street, but that doesn’t just happen.” Implementation of the 2010 Dodd–Frank financial reform law “doesn’t happen by itself, it happens because people at the Treasury Department do it,” Sarbanes said. “Tell the politicians to put some money behind the workers who make it happen.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who was introduced as the federal workers’ key defender on the ideologically divided House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, “My fellow federal employees, the time for treating you like a punching bag is long over. Unfortunately, some on the other side of the aisle feel there’s hay to be made by disparaging the federal workforce and the federal worker. But the biggest loser is our constituents, whom you serve,” Connolly said. “I won’t stand for it. They want to discourage people from working in public service, but I want the opposite. Public service is a noble calling. The next time you hear the strident rhetoric, be of good cheer.”
Invited but not present at the hour-long “Support Federal Workers” rally were Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Donna Edwards, D-Md., and Jim Moran, D-Va., along with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.