Union Announces 'Boldest Agenda' Yet to Strengthen Federal Employee Rights, Pay and Benefits
The president of the nation’s largest federal employee union forecast a “two-year window” to undo former President Trump’s workforce policies and expand workers’ collective bargaining rights.
American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley on Sunday announced an expansive agenda to undo the Trump administration’s workforce policies and to improve the rights, pay and benefits of workers throughout the federal government.
At the union’s annual legislative conference, held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelley congratulated members for persevering through an administration that seemed to union officials focused on the eradication of collective bargaining at federal agencies. He then quickly pivoted to a laundry list of policy proposals to strengthen worker rights.
“Though we may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief, pat ourselves on the back and let our guards down for a moment, we don’t have that luxury,” he said. “We must summon what Dr. [Martin Luther] King Jr. called the ‘fierce urgency of now’ . . . because windows of opportunity rarely stay open for long. We must undo all of the damage that was done over the last four years, and we must gain new grounds in empowering our members, expanding their rights and improving their workplace. We must revitalize our organizing, expand our union and take our power to new levels. We have but two years to enact the boldest agenda AFGE has proposed in all my time with our great union.”
Kelley applauded President Biden’s executive order undoing three Trump-era executive orders aimed at sidelining federal sector unions, as well as rescinding the Schedule F job classification that could have stripped thousands of federal employees of their due process protections and an order barring federal agencies and contractors from engaging in so-called “divisive” diversity and inclusion training. But he said the union must now get to work negotiating with agencies to strip those provisions from their contracts, and it must push Congress to enact new protections.
“We must fight for swift passage of the FAIR Act, introduced by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, to provide federal employees with a long overdue 3.2% pay raise in 2022,” Kelley said. “You all have more than earned it, and now we must go get it. We must fight to restore COVID paid sick leave benefits provided [by Congress] last March. It should be automatic and permanent that federal employees get extra paid leave if they’re diagnosed with COVID or taking care of someone with COVID.”
Kelley also called on the administration to restore collective bargaining rights and due process protections to all employees at the Veterans Affairs Department, including repealing the VA Mission Act and the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. And he urged Congress to grant full Title 5 protections to employees of the Transportation Security Administration.
“It is outrageous that [transportation security officers] still don’t have full collective bargaining rights, worker protections under the [Fair Labor Standards Act] and the [Family and Medical Leave Act], fair pay and [Merit Systems Protections Board] appeal rights,” he said. “TSOs have worked heroically and at great risk during the pandemic, and they must have the same rights and protections as all federal employees. And we must fight to repeal the brutal retirement cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 that have so far cost our members $12 billion. It was uncalled for then, it’s uncalled for now, and it’s long past time to undo them.”
Democrats told union members that they would have partners in Congress willing to help them achieve their goals, particularly after the tumult of the last four years.
“For the past four years, I’ve stood before the men and women of AFGE as an ally in battle, and now I am proud to stand before you as an ally in rebuilding,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. “[I’ll] proudly continue to advocate for our federal workforce heroes to receive better pay, better benefits and better recognition. And I am working very hard to ensure that parity between the military and civilians with respect to [annual pay increases] is a reality.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer highlighted the Biden administration’s efforts to improve workplace safety in the federal government, including an order mandating the wearing of face masks at federal facilities and a newly empowered Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“The new administration is off to a good start in reversing some of Trump’s worst attacks on federal workers and ordering OSHA to finally provide clearer guidelines to protect people in the workplace against COVID, but we need to keep going,” he said. “As majority leader, I’ll make sure President Biden’s appointees are strong allies of labor and are committed to workplace safety during this health crisis . . . We will finish the job of ensuring federal employees receive paid parental leave. We’ll make sure health insurance stays affordable, that workplace safety standards stay in place, and most of all we will work to make sure you stay safe until this evil pandemic subsides.”
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