Employee unions to form coalition about feds

Several federal employee unions will join a new group to raise awareness about the federal workforce. The National Treasury Employee Union also is holding its a...

By Meg Beasley
Federal News Radio

Federal employee labor unions are joining to form a coalition called America’s Workforce, to be launched in the next few weeks.

Colleen Kelley, president of The National Treasury Employees Union, said her organization will help lead the effort.

“We are working on a joint advertising and public relations campaign to take our message to America that federal employees provide valuable services that our country depends on every day,” Kelley said as the union kicked off its annual legislative conference in Washington Tuesday.

She didn’t offer details about the council because she said it is still a work in progress and she wants to keep it open to any and all parties who might still be interested.

Kelley said NTEU also will launch a campaign of its own to highlight how the work of federal employees impacts the lives of every American.

“With radio and television spots, websites and social media outreach, our public service campaign will carry the message that federal employees work for us,” Kelley said.

She added that over the past few months the conversation around federal employees has evolved, and the new campaign will reflect that. She said future efforts will focus less on correcting the record and more on emphasizing government workers’ dedication.

Kelley said feds have had mixed reactions to the recent hostility toward federal workers.

“I think [the attacks] have disheartened a lot of the rank and file,” Kelley said. “I think they feel unappreciated and singled out. I’ve heard some people say they are ready (to take buyouts or quit). But many others say this too will pass, we’re not in this alone. For some it makes them angry and more determined than ever to get their message out. But at the end of the day, no matter how disheartened they are, they really believe in what they do. I think most are going to stick with it and prove the naysayers wrong.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said at the NTEU conference that recent polls actually show an increase in public support for federal employees and the services they provide. He said the real challenge is educating new members of congress about the importance of a robust government workforce.

“We have a lot of new members who don’t know much, frankly, about the federal government or the federal workforce,” said Connolly. “A lot of them got elected on an ideological pledge so they don’t always take the time to learn what the federal employee does and the services provided to their constituents. The more we can engage in that dialog and that educational challenge, the better off we’re going to be.”

That type of education is exactly what NTEU members from around the country are hoping to accomplish this week. During the conference, union members take part in training sessions about issues and the most effective ways to reach out to the public and lawmakers. They also will visit members of Congress to raise awareness about key issues.

The union has outlined six legislative priorities for this year. They include:

Maureen Gilman, legislative and political director for NTEU, said there are many stories about federal workers receiving excessive salaries.

“In reality, when the Bureau of Labor statistics actually matches the actual occupations in the private sector and the federal sector, they find that the federal workforce is behind the private sector by 24 percent,” Gilman said. “In addition, the federal workforce is already facing a two-year pay freeze. The most we can do at this point is just try to bring some facts to these people about what the reality is between federal and private.”

Gilman said NTEU also is concerned about furloughs, both in the event of a government shut down as well as free-standing legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) that calls for a mandatory two-week furlough for all federal employees.

Collective bargaining for Transportation Security Administration officers is another NTEU priority. Last month TSA administrator John Pistole granted transportation security officers (TSOs) the right to vote on union representation. The elections, which will occur over the phone and by mail, will run from March 9 to April 19. Employees will choose between NTEU, the American Federation of Government Employees, or no representation at all.

Kelley said NTEU must work on these long-term concerns but also handle the confusion and fear surrounding the potential government shutdown. She said agencies are not doing a good job of letting employees know what to do in case of a shut-down, and that lack of information is making the problem worse.

“I believe [shutdown planning] is going on somewhere in some office in some agency, but it is not anything that has been shared with employees to-date,” Kelley said. “That’s causing a lot of consternation. The communication to employees has been almost zero.”

Congress passed a continuing resolution Tuesday evening to keep the government running for the next two weeks. However, lawmakers must still agree on a budget by March 19 or else the government again will face the possibility of shutdown.

Kelley said NTEU members will continue pressing Congress to pass a final budget with adequate funding for agencies.

“Today and tomorrow we are taking our message to Capitol Hill – we want to work, that is what federal employees want to do” said Kelley. “The American people need us on the job, so Congress needs to do its job.”

Tuesday night NTEU held a candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin.

Wednesday at noon, union members will march in front of the Capitol. Several local members of Congress are expected to attend, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Reps. Chris van Hollen (D-Md.), James Moran (D-Va.) and Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.).

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