Lawmakers on Monday pressed federal employees to stay positive and committed to their mission amid an onslaught of attacks from Republicans, as the union they were addressing promised to fight back against any legislative attempts to undermine feds’ rights or benefits.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., promised to join the American Federation of Government Employees in opening “a can of whoop ass” on Capitol Hill to ward off any perceived injustice against the federal workforce. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., joined Takano at the labor group’s annual legislative conference, giving a passionate plea for federal employees to keep their spirits high.
“I have come here to encourage you not to give up,” Cummings said in a largely off-the-cuff address. “You are some of the most important people in the world.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s ranking member attempted to remind the union members why they got into federal service in the first place: “You march out and give it everything you’ve got,” Cummings said. “You do it over and over and over again because it feeds your soul.”
AFGE National President J. David Cox renounced President Obama’s proposed 1.6 percent pay raise for 2017, calling instead for a 5.3 percent increase.
“I’m a happy, jolly man,” Cox said as to why he is hoping for the largest civilian pay raise in more than three decades. “We may not get 5.3 [percent], I’ll be perfectly honest,” he said, “but we’ll be fighting like hell for more than 1.6 [percent].”
Cox identified bringing locality boundary parity for General Schedule and Wage Grade employees as another top priority for 2016. He said AFGE is working with the Obama administration to fix the problem, in which white-collar and blue-collar employees reporting to the same locations are receiving different locality-based pay adjustments, at the executive level.
AFGE will also focus on fighting against any effort to roll back due process protections for federal employees, Cox said, as well as any changes to the civil service that move toward pay for performance.
The leader of Cummings’ committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has made easing the removal of federal employees a key tenet of his chairmanship. Cummings promised to fight back on any such proposal. Defense Department Secretary Ash Carter last year unveiled his Force of the Future initiative, which, among other things, would overhaul the workforce structure and move many civilian employees out of the General Schedule system.
The details of the new structure are still being negotiated, and Cox said with each new iteration Pentagon officials, “water it down, water it down, water it down.” Each time he sees the new terms of initiative, Cox said, “I claim victory.”
Takano, ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs committee, also vowed to ensure appeal rights for federal employees. He touted his VA bill that he said would strengthen accountability at the department while avoiding creating a “culture of fear.”
“I understand the need to make VA more efficient and effective,” Takano said. “But I also understand that trampling on the rights of VA employees, a third of whom are veterans themselves, will not help us achieve that goal.” The lawmaker also promoted his proposal to give collective bargaining rights to VA’s health care practitioners.
Cummings voiced his displeasure with the way his Republican counterparts treat the federal workforce.
“It pisses me off when I hear our Republican friends beat up on federal employees,” Cummings said, “and I constantly remind them that they get a federal paycheck too.”
The veteran Maryland lawmaker, a co-sponsor on a bill to give feds a 3.8 percent pay raise, said he would work to give feds a more significant salary increase than the one Obama proposed.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure you are fairly compensated for your work and you get meaningful pay raises,” he said.
Cummings, at the end of the speech that he claimed was not the one he “intended to give,” said his federal employee advocacy will not let up: “As long as there’s breath in my body, I’ve got your backs.”