For J. David Cox, national president for the American Federation of Government Employees, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election came down to “bread and butter issues.” And those are challenges that his union, which represents more than 309,000 federal employees, will rally for with the start of the new administration as well.
“Federal employees, their pay is 6.5 percent lower when adjusted for inflation than it was 10 years ago, that’s a real issue,” Cox said during a Dec. 7 roundtable with reporters. “That’s a lot less buying power. … People have lost jobs. There’s been austerity. There’s not been driving up wages.”
That’s why AFGE has already been in talks with Democrats and Republicans in Congress on a new piece of legislation for a 2018 pay raise for federal employees. The percentage would be higher than the projected pay raise set under the annual pay schedule adjustment formula in Title 5, which AFGE said would be about 1.9 percent for 2018.
Yet Cox believes AFGE can strike a deal next year that would give feds a higher pay raise than what the President-elect may recommend.
“I believe we’re going to get more money this time,” he said, citing his positive relationships with lawmakers and a concerted push from AFGE members.
“I can’t tell you that it’s going to happen, but my expectation is yes, [for] a little bit more,” Cox added. “We’re going to be working it. I think many members of Congress understand the importance of trying to have the ability to recruit and retain good federal employees.”
Typically, the president recommends a percentage by which to raise federal employees’ pay in his annual budget request. President Barack Obama approved a 1.6 percent pay raise for 2017, though Cox and many members of Congress pushed for a 5.3 percent raise.
“We may not win, but I’m sure going to fight like hell for it,” Cox said.
Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D) and Virginia Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D), along with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), wrote to Obama Wednesday asking that he issue a new executive order for a 2.1 percent pay raise for all civilian employees in 2017.
Most military members will receive a 2.1 percent raise next year under the National Defense Authorization Act.
For a union that endorsed Hillary Clinton during the election, Cox remains positive about the future.
For one, AFGE gained a net of 1,200 new members in November, which Cox said was particularly promising.
And he expects many of the partnerships AFGE has formed with agencies over the past eight years to continue, no matter what happens to the Federal Labor Management Relations statute during the Trump administration. Obama signed an executive order in 2009 that formally established a partnership between labor and agency management after President George W. Bush repealed the order that his predecessor signed in 1993.
“Where it’s worked, I think it will continue to work,” Cox said of those partnerships. “Where you have people that just don’t like each other, it doesn’t matter whether you have an executive order, whether you have a law, whatever you do, they’re just not going to like each other. But divorce is never an option in the labor-management arena.”
“We’ve regularly seen these pieces of legislation introduced and I think we’ll see them introduced again. They will, again, affect every federal employee. If you want to have good government services, if you want the borders protected, you are going to have to pay decent wages and provide decent benefits.”
Due process rights for federal employees and senior executives is an area where AFGE won’t back down.
“We are going to speak out against the annihilation of anyone’s due process rights, I’m just going to make that clear,” he said.
Cox said he’s concerned by President-elect Donald Trump’s “unpredictability.” But he’s been pleased by the President-elect’s hard stance on jobs, Medicare and Social Security for working people.
“That’s why I have some hope for federal employees, that as Mr. Trump becomes president and interacts on a daily basis with the federal government that he’s going to realize that he has to have those federal employees to make his government work, and to work smoothly and effectively,” he said.
No matter what the Trump administration ultimately proposes, AFGE said it’s experienced the hiring freezes and the push for a pay-for-performance system.
“I’ve been on this merry-go-round before,” Cox said. “This union has been on this merry-go-round before, and we will continue to do that because we’re still going to have a country, we’re still going to have a government [and] we’re still going to have federal employees. Will there be some aches and pains along the way? I’m sure.”