Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Federal employee unions back Obama in 2012 election

Advocates are disappointed with the president over pay freeze and pension contribution proposals, but a Romney-Ryan administration scares them.

Federal employee unions support Democratic President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election, despite their disappointment over how the incumbent has handled some issues affecting the government workforce.

The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union have endorsed Obama in the 2012 presidential race, as have smaller unions like the National Federation of Federal Employees and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. Obama has won much praise from federal employee unions for various policies, including extending retirement credit to feds for unused sick leave, granting health insurance benefits to thousands of part-time federal firefighters, extending some benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees and reinstating federal labor-management partnerships.

Federal employee unions, however, still are smarting over the two-year pay freeze on civilian federal workers that Obama supported, and recently extended until Congress passes a budget, and the administration’s proposal to increase the amount feds contribute to their pensions. “While we have not agreed on every issue, President Obama has continued to advocate strongly for shared sacrifice, rather than disproportionately balancing the budget on the backs of middle-class federal workers,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a September statement endorsing Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

For those who advocate on behalf of federal workers, supporting the Republican nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is simply not an option given the candidate’s publicly stated views on the federal workforce. “Our choice is between a president who’s on our side most of the time, who values workers and who supports organized labor -- and a candidate who’s out to slash our pay and benefits, cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, privatize [the Transportation Security Administration], take away our collective bargaining rights and use us as a piggy bank to finance massive tax cuts for millionaires,” AFGE President J. David Cox said in the union’s September/October newsletter.

Cox gave a rousing speech to AFGE members during the organization’s legislative conference this spring in which he blasted the Obama administration for its proposed 0.5 percent federal pay raise for 2013. “And now the administration is talking about one-half of 1 percent,” said Cox, then-AFGE’s national secretary-treasurer. “Now let me say that one more time. This is our friend. One-half of 1 percent. I believe we all deserve better than that. Do you not believe you deserve more than a half percent? It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, brothers and sisters, if you are trying to drive the living standards of our members down, we’ve got to take you to task and hold you accountable, no matter who and what you are.” Despite that tough talk, Cox pledged to “knock on every door” if he had to, to ensure Obama’s reelection, during a recent interview with Government Executive.

Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have not endeared themselves to federal employee groups with their platform. Romney has said he wants to reduce federal employees’ compensation, and shrink the government workforce by 10 percent through attrition. Ryan favors reducing the government workforce as well as extending the current civilian pay freeze and increasing the amount federal workers contribute to their pensions.

Romney’s remarks in particular about federal workers have not always been flattering. “The taxpayers shouldn’t have to have money taken out of their paychecks to pay people in government, who are our servants, who are making a lot more money than we are,” Romney said in 2011 to a group of metal workers in Dubuque, Iowa. For his part, Obama hasn’t always lavished unqualified praise on federal employees, either. CBS reporter Mark Knoller last year overheard the president’s remarks about feds, in what Obama might have thought were private comments to some campaign donors in 2011: “What's striking when you enter into the federal government is how generally smart and dedicated people are,” Obama said, according to Knoller’s report. The president went on to that some employees “are slugs and not trying to do their job. But that's true of any large institution.”

National Federation of Federal Employees President William R. Dougan has called Obama “a friend of the federal employee, no question.” In an October endorsement, Dougan said the president understands government employees’ contributions. “He and his administration have opened doors to federal employees that were previously closed under the last administration, and federal employees are better off because of it,” Dougan said.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association does not officially endorse candidates, but the group sent the two candidates a questionnaire on issues important to federal workers and retirees. Romney declined to participate but the administration responded, touting Obama’s 0.5 percent pay raise proposal, the success of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the president’s efforts to streamline government operations and his attempts to make deficit reduction a shared sacrifice.

Click here to see a comparison of the candidate’s views on issues that affect federal workers.