Unions Push Democrats to Embrace Federal Employees’ Priorities in Party Platform

Hillary Clinton embraces Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., at a campaign event in April. Cummings chairs the party's platform committee. Hillary Clinton embraces Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., at a campaign event in April. Cummings chairs the party's platform committee. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Federal employee groups are pushing for Democrats to protect agency missions and employees in the party's quadrennial platform, and so far party leaders appear amenable to those issues.

The Democratic National Committee’s platform committee, made up of party leaders and individuals loyal to both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has held several meetings over the last month and plans to ratify its final document in early July. The platform will serve as a guideline for the party’s policy agenda.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association submitted testimony to the committee, urging the members to include in a statement of the Democratic Party’s ideals a commitment to protecting the “unsung heroes of our nation.” Richard Thissen, NARFE’s president, asked the committee to promote fair hiring, good federal management and fair pay for the civilian workforce.

Specifically, Thissen requested protection of merit system principles and that party leaders avoid letting “mismanagement at a handful of federal agencies” undermine feds’ due process.

“Elimination of these protections will only increase the vulnerability of the federal workforce to manipulation by partisan politics, the political agenda of future administrations, and personal favoritism,” Thissen said.

He also asked for a pledge to close the gap between federal and private sector pay, support cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees -- including all Medicare recipients -- and paid parental leave for current workers.

“We urge the committee to adopt as part of its framework the theme of fairness and equity in employment practices, and a compensation and benefits system for federal employees that encourages excellence and keeps the promises made to those who have dedicated their careers to the service of their country,” Thissen said.

Tim Kauffman, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the group has been “working closely” with its parent union, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, to ensure similar goals, such as pay equity and due process protections. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka testified in front of the committee in June. AFGE also wants the committee to reject proposals to close any Veterans Affairs Department facilities and Social Security Administration offices, as well as block efforts to privatize the Transportation Security Administration.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairs the platform committee. Cummings is a long-time advocate for federal employees and has fought to protect their rights and responsibilities as the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Cummings also has significant experience in overseeing the U.S. Postal Service, having authored or cosponsored several pieces of legislation to protect USPS employees and operations. The lawmaker helped guide through a proposal to support the Postal Service at the most recent committee meeting.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., introduced the amendment after the committee previously heard testimony from American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein. The labor leader addressed the platform panel at the request of the Sanders campaign, calling on the Democrats to vow to protect against efforts to privatize the agency.

“The Postal Service is vital to jobs and the economy,” Dimondstein said, “by providing service to individual and business customers and providing a foundation of decent unionized living-wage jobs, won through collective bargaining that lift up our communities.”

The committee ultimately voted unanimously to include provisions supporting the elimination of prefunding future retirees health benefits and restoring service standards to 2012 levels. The latter proposal has repeatedly received bipartisan support in Congress despite Postal Service management claiming the reversion to faster delivery was “financially and operationally indefensible.”

While the committee’s hearings were publicly live streamed, it has so far released just highlights of its draft platform and will only unveil its full contents after the document is solidified July 9. In the previous platform, Democrats made only passing references to federal management and employees.

“We are committed to the most open, efficient, and accountable government in history,” the party wrote in the last iteration of its stated ideals, “and we believe that government is more accountable when it is transparent.”

The platform also praised an Obama administration effort for federal agencies to hire 100,000 individuals with disabilities, called on federal employees to work more closely with state and local government officials, endorsed avoiding the federal spending limits imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act and committed to fighting for bargaining rights for public sector workers.

Meanwhile, the Republicans, in their last platform, called the civil service “bloated” and overpaid. They said the civil service should be more flexible and reward employees “who dare to innovate, reduce overhead, optimize processes, and expedite paperwork.” The party also said it would rid the federal workforce of any employees delinquent on their taxes, and supported a “review and examination” of all federal agencies to root out wasteful spending, inefficiencies and powers that would be better performed by the states.

The party did note federal employees’ jobs could be difficult.

“We recognize the dedication of federal workers and the difficulty of their thankless task of implementing poorly drafted or open-ended legislation,” it wrote.

Republicans are expected to finalize their party’s 2016 platform in the week before the July 18-21 convention. 

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