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NTEU bemoans lack of information on possible shutdown

Agencies should be answering employees’ questions about impact on their benefits and whether they can moonlight, union members are told.

Federal agencies are not doing enough to communicate with their employees about a potential government shutdown, leaders of the National Treasury Employees Union said on Tuesday in Washington at their annual legislative conference.

Agencies have increased employees' anxiety by not communicating any shutdown plans with their employees, NTEU President Colleen Kelley told reporters during the conference.

"If there is no money on March 4, employees need to know whether to come to work or not on March 7," Kelley said. "Employees need to be told something." Kelley said she had not heard of any agency that had communicated shutdown plans with employees, including notification of whether or not employees are classified as essential, which determines whether or not they are required to work during a shutdown.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the Senate would vote within 48 hours on a continuing resolution that appears likely to keep the government open at least until March 18.

Kelley said NTEU had collected members' personal e-mail addresses so the union could continue to communicate with members if a shutdown occurs. She said NTEU was answering member questions about issues such as unemployment benefits, health benefits and whether members could take on second jobs, but said many were concerns agencies should be addressing.

"We are going to be facing serious issues for federal workforce throughout this whole year and beyond," said Maureen Gilman, NTEU's legislative director, during the press conference. She said a two-week extension of the spending resolution would not lessen the chances of a government shutdown. She also speculated that Congress could continue passing short-term appropriations bills for the coming months, emphasizing that there remain major disagreements between the House and Senate on long-term funding.

When the fiscal 2012 budget is debated later this year, federal employees' retirement benefits could become part of the conversation, Gilman added.

The future of federal retirement benefits was also one of the legislative priorities NTEU discussed earlier in the day with union representatives from around the country. Gilman told them the NTEU was opposed to most reforms targeting benefits and noted the Federal Employees Retirement System had no unfunded liabilities.

Kelley also said Congress's recent focus on the federal workforce had made some NTEU members feel "unappreciated and singled out."But the renewed focus on public workers, she added, was an opportunity for NTEU to remind the public of the work government employees do for the country.

The conference's slogan was "Proud to Work for America," and Kelley announced plans to use it in a new campaign in association with other unions to advocate for the work public employees do.