Longtime AFGE member elected to lead union

Delegates of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, elected a new president Wednesday night, ousting two-term president Bobby Harnage.

John Gage, an AFGE member since 1977, will lead the union for the next three years. Gage has served since 1981 as president of AFGE Local 1923, which represents 8,500 employees at Social Security Administration headquarters, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Health and Human Services Department, several regional Veterans Affairs Department offices and two Navy bases.

"AFGE has the responsibility to let the American public know what is really going on with government," said Gage, who officially took the helm of the union Thursday morning. "The Social Security Administration is being starved of resources, VA hospitals are being threatened with closures, billions of taxpayer dollars are being dumped into Defense contractors' pockets and public services are being directly converted to for-profit corporations."

According to Gage, the Bush administration's competitive sourcing efforts are gutting the government.

"It's all about political payoffs for well-connected campaign contributors. Further, Bush's efforts to eliminate collective bargaining rights have nothing to do with 'flexibility' and everything to do with outright de-unionization," he said. "Many of our places are major employers in small towns and we don't think the communities are going to like the loss of these jobs, and we don't think the public is going to like the loss of these programs."

Gage said he intends to publicize the administration's privatization efforts during his tenure as president.

"We're going to try to get out there and really mobilize our bargaining units and our communities," said Gage. "We will make it clear to the American people that the Bush administration's efforts to privatize half of our government's workforce have nothing to do with saving money or improving services."

The Bush administration has pledged to make public-private competition a routine part of how government does business, touting it as a means to transform federal agencies and save taxpayer dollars.

Harnage took over as president of the union in October 1997 after longtime AFGE President John Sturdivant died of leukemia.

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