AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. testifies on Capitol Hill earlier this year.

AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. testifies on Capitol Hill earlier this year. AFGE

Union Leader Promises to ‘Torture’ Lawmakers Until They Fund Government

Shutdown talk is already hurting federal workers, AFGE president says.

With less than one week until the deadline for Congress to fund federal agencies, a federal employee union vowed on Thursday not to take a shutdown “lying down.”

The American Federation of Government Employees is putting into motion its plan to organize members into rallying against a shutdown, according to president J. David Cox, which would at best delay pay for all federal employees. Cox told reporters in a conference call Thursday afternoon his primary lesson from the 16-day shutdown in 2012 was to “mobilize, mobilize, mobilize.”

To that end, AFGE is hosting a telephonic town hall Thursday evening, which the union expects to draw 50,000 to 60,000 members. Cox said he is talking to his local and council leaders, as well as members of Congress supporting his message. He spoke on Thursday to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who promised to “stand side-by-side” with the union.

“We are going to torture every member of Congress until they get busy and do their job,” Cox said. He promised union members would “hit the streets,” make “angry calls” and send emails and letters to their representatives, demanding they fund the government.

The Senate rejected a spending bill on Thursday that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, but the chamber’s leadership has already put forward a “clean” temporary spending bill without that provision. House leadership has not made its plan clear.

Cox noted there is no guarantee federal employees furloughed during an appropriations lapse receive back pay, though historically Congress has always opted to dole out feds’ normal salaries retroactively. The rest of the workforce would be forced to report to their jobs with only the promise of back pay once government reopened.

Feds “do not want to be locked out of their jobs,” Cox said. “Even if they get paid after the fact,” he added, they want to be working and serving the American people.

“No other entity in the country can not pay their employees on payday,” he said.

Federal workers are already starting to feel the effects of the shutdown rumors, Cox said, explaining some of his members have already decided to defer expenses such as car maintenance or eating out at restaurants.

“They are doing their job,” Cox said, “but it’s a great deal of stress to put on someone to say that they may not be able to do their job next week.” He added if the shutdown occurs, that effect will be multiplied and local businesses and economies will be hurt. Studies of the 2013 shutdown have shown that withholding pay from federal employees brought a significant drag on the U.S. economy at large.

Cox also noted avoiding a shutdown was only the first step; while Congress is likely to eventually pass a stopgap funding measure, AFGE will fight for a full budget that raises the budget caps on discretionary spending. 

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