Federal Workers Back House Bill Providing 3.1% Pay Raises

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Federal worker unions are praising proposed House legislation that would give all 2 million U.S. government workers a 3.1% general raise on Jan. 1. President Donald Trump declared he’d give them zero.

Not only that, but Trump wanted to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management – in essence the government’s human resources department – and transfer its functions to an unaccountable political appointee within the White House. The House legislation would bar  that scheme.

Killing OPM would have been a long step back to the old spoils system of the 19th century and just what Trump and his anti-worker, right-wing ideological backers in and out of the White House wanted, said J. David Cox, president of the Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal workers union.

But the Democratic-run House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government subcommittee bounced Trump’s anti-OPM plan. Lawmakers inserted a flat ban on the “reckless and potentially dangerous” idea, Cox said. Then, in their June 3 late-afternoon work session, the subcommittee unanimously passed the legislation providing raises.

Both Trump moves that the panel discarded are part of his ideological war against workers, especially federal workers, and their unions. The war also includes Trump’s executive orders evicting unions from their small spaces within federal office buildings, seizure of phones, fax machines and computers that union representatives used to help protect workers, and forcing the reps to do so on their own time and on their own dime.

Trump also barred the feds from communicating with lawmakers.

A federal judge in D.C. overturned most Trump moves last year as both unconstitutional and violating federal law governing union-management relations. But several Trump political appointees, notably the Secretaries of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs, are following Trump’s orders – and defying the judge.

The Democratic-run House panel appears to be coming to the workers’ defense.

 

The legislation for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 “would recognize the invaluable contributions federal employees make to our country by providing them with a 3.1% pay raise next year,” Cox said. “The bill also rejects the Trump administration’s reckless proposal to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management, and takes steps to protect workers’ rights.”

Those steps include strong language within the bill to protect rank-and-file whistleblowers.

“Federal employees earn less today than they did at the start of the decade, due to years of pay freezes and incremental adjustments that failed to keep pace with inflation,” Cox said. “Many agencies are struggling to recruit and retain employees due to noncompetitive salaries that lag private-sector standards. This pay raise is a critical investment in our government’s most valuable resource – its workers.”

Treasury Employees (NTEU) President Tony Reardon agreed. His union and other federal unions voiced those same concerns earlier to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Union members “raised strong concerns about the plan that would give an unconfirmed political appointee control over government-wide personnel policy,” Reardon said. And NTEU “reiterated its position that moving part of OPM to the Executive Office of the President threatens the merit system and removes the agency’s nonpartisan, independent status.”

“NTEU also updated Hoyer on the ongoing attacks on employee collective bargaining rights — particularly at the Department of Health and Human Services — and the need to protect federal employee benefits.”

The legislation, which the full Democratic-run House Appropriations Committee will consider this month, bans spending money on other Trump schemes, including:

  • Trump’s Mexican Wall. The bill bans using money from the Treasury Department’s forfeiture fund “to plan, design, construct or carry out a project to build a wall, barrier, fence or road” along the U.S.-Mexico border – or even to build an access road to the wall. That fund has $1.5 billion of the $5 billion-$7 billion Trump wants for his wall.
  • Trump wants to cut the federal poverty rate by redefining poverty down. That would throw millions off eligibility for food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid and federally subsidized housing. The legislation thwarts that scheme by banning the government from using any funds to advance it.
  • The measure also tells health insurers their policies for federal workers must include contraceptive coverage – unless the insurers object for religious reasons.
  • In a win for the GOP, the measure also keeps the 44-year-old Hyde Amendment banning federal funding for abortions, in this case applied to all federal workers, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. On the other hand, the bill also orders federal agencies to give women workers a site at work to nurse their babies. 

The measure also bans the frequent GOP scheme to end 6-day mail delivery.

There are two apparent sections of anti-union language in the measure. One bans all federal agencies from giving unions workers’ home addresses unless the worker agrees or a court authorizes release of the address. That’s followed by a ban on giving telephone numbers, mailing addresses or e-mail lists of worker contacts “to any person or organization outside the federal government” unless the House and Senate Appropriations Committees agree.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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