Political endorsements: Do they help or hurt feds?

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If you order the same thing for lunch every day, then toss it in the trash because it tastes awful every day, something probably needs to change:

Maybe order something else.

Or eat at a new place.

Don’t miss the latest changes to the federal government’s operating status. Sign up for Federal News Radio’s breaking news alerts.

If you order the same thing for lunch every day, then toss it in the trash because it tastes awful every day, something probably needs to change:

Maybe order something else.

Or eat at a new place.

Or bring your own.

With the 1.6 percent federal pay raise proposed in President Barack Obama’s recent, and last, budget, unions representing federal (and postal) workers might want to at least consider hitting the reset button when it comes to their — by now automatic and assumed — endorsements. So far this year, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union have endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. The American Postal Workers Union has endorsed Bernie Sanders. Other federal groups — their executive boards if not their members — are likely to back a Democratic candidate.

Then what?

When it comes to the federal workforce, the Obama administration has said nearly all the right things. But talk — when it comes to putting food on the table —  has zero calories.

While pledging to make government service “cool again”, the White House endorsed a two-year federal pay freeze (which congressional Republicans stretched to a three-year pay freeze). The White House, as reported by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, created the sequestration process that cost feds take-home pay through a series of furloughs. It also helped foster government shutdowns (largely happily endorsed by House Republicans) that disrupted work schedules and deadlines, and closed national parks but didn’t save a nickel because employees were paid not to come to work. Republicans deservedly took most of the heat for the shutdowns, but the Wizard of Oz behind the curtains was a Democrat. The administration also initially backed a proposal that would reduce future cost-of-living adjustments for federal, military and Social Security retirees.

While Democrats and Republicans were playing a rough-checking game of hockey, federal workers were the pucks!

Political endorsements, especially by groups that have little or no money to give or guaranteed bloc votes to deliver, are dicey at best. It is one thing if the union gives every member a chance to decide (as the National Association of Letter Carriers union has sometimes done in the past) whether, and whom, to endorse. It is another thing if the endorsement is made by three or four top officials of the union who say they are speaking for their members. Really?

Republican politicians — at least some of them — have apparently written off the federal-postal vote — if there is such a thing. The list of agencies (and jobs) some of them say they would eliminate gets longer each election. The Environmental Protection Agency is a long-time target. This year, the Internal Revenue Service has been put on some pols’ endangered species list. Some would privatize the air traffic control system.

By the same token, Democrats seem to take feds for granted. A few will appear at a union rally calling for a bigger pay raise than proposed by their President. But except for Washington-area politicians, most then fade into the background when the fed-whomping begins. It’s been that way for a long time. But not always …

When President Richard Nixon ran for a second term, the leaders of two of the largest federal unions (and most influential) federal unions endorsed him. John Griner, president of the AFGE and James Rademacher, president of the NALC, gave him their personal endorsements. They distanced themselves from endorsing him as presidents of their union, but most people got the message. In return the union chiefs got promises — some delivered some sidetracked by Watergate — that benefited feds both in and outside of the unions.

It’s probably too late, this time around, for the unions to cut any meaningful deals (or even the faint hope of improvements) for their members this year. Or next.

But maybe eight  years from now, at the end of the Trump or Sanders administration, things will look different. A sort-of new generation of Clintons might square off against a sort-of new generation of Bushes, unions can actually make one of the candidates earn their members’ votes and deliver on some of their promises.

Meantime, it would be refreshing — maybe even good for the country — if elected Republicans stopped treating civil servants like they were deceased skunks. Likewise, it might be interesting if the Democrats stopped assuming federal workers were in the bag. Their bag.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

The phrase “talk is cheap” is a shortened version of two American idioms: “talk is cheap but it takes money to buy whisky”  and “talk is cheap but  it takes money to buy a farm.”

Source: Historically Speaking

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