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Largest Federal Employee Union Leader Rejects Budget Deal Targeting Federal Pensions

AFGE Logo 2

AFGE rejects notion that there should be trade-off between federal programs and federal employees

WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. issued the following statement in response to the budget deal announced today by the Budget Conference Committee:

“Despite the extraordinarily hard work of several Congressional leaders, AFGE cannot support any budget deal that asks for more from federal employees. AFGE represents more than just the 670,000 federal and D.C government employees on the rolls today, but every other federal worker who will one day take the oath and be forced to live with this needless pension cut.

“AFGE rejects the notion that there should be a trade-off between funding the programs to which federal employees have devoted their lives, and their own livelihoods. Though the $6 billion in increased retirement contributions for new employees is less severe than the administration’s $20 billion proposal, it is still unacceptable.

“Newly hired federal employees already pay 3.1% of their salaries toward their defined benefit pension and 6.2% to Social Security. Forcing employees hired after 2013 to pay an additional 1.3% — for a total of 4.4% — toward their pension will make it all but impossible for them to fund their Thrift Savings Plan accounts.  The result will be a serious shortfall in their retirement income security, and a substantial lowering of their standard of living.

“We also are concerned with the impact of the new self plus one category in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which will raise costs for families with more than two persons.

“None of this would be occurring were it not for the perverted logic of austerity politics. The Budget Control Act was a grave mistake, and the spending cuts it imposes year after year have been ruinous for our economy and for the government services on which all Americans depend. Spending cuts hurt the poor and the vulnerable, and they also hurt military readiness, medical research, enforcement of clean air and water rules, access to housing and education, transportation systems and infrastructure, and homeland security.  Congress should focus its efforts on repealing the Budget Control Act, not pitting federal workers against the very programs to which they have committed their lives.

“While we have not yet seen the language limiting the compensation taxpayers must pay for individual contractor employees to $487,000, AFGE will work to lower the overall amount, which is still too high, and also will work to ensure that there are no unnecessary loopholes or exceptions.  Although limiting contractor compensation technically doesn’t ‘score’ for budget purposes, GAO estimates that it will save almost $500 million annually, just in DoD.  Agencies will be better off by being able to rid themselves of ridiculously high compensation for contractor employees.

“AFGE’s members are extremely grateful for the heroic work of House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland for his efforts as a chief negotiator of the budget deal, and in particular for his extraordinary efforts to protect current federal employees. AFGE also is grateful to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, Frank Wolf of Virginia, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Nita Lowey of New York for their leadership in pushing for a deal that would not unfairly punish federal workers.  Finally, Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Harry Reid of Nevada all worked hard to ensure that the budget deal was fair for federal workers.”

Federal Workers Get Ready Here Comes Congressman Ryan

Paul Ryan

 Paul Ryan

Congress only has a few more days to act before they take their much UN-needed vacation from Washington.   This Congress is on pace to reach a new record setting low, as the most unproductive Congress in history.

The biggest issue right now — aside from immigration, the ACA, jobs, and the economy, which they are not even talking about right now – is the Federal Budget.  What will be the spending level for the next six months, year, or decade?  That is the million-dollar or should I say trillion-dollar question.

To end the forced government shutdown the parties agreed to finally sit down and hammer out the details of a budget.  Sen. Patty Murray would present her Senate budget and Rep. Paul Ryan would present the House budget.  They were tasked with leading a committee of conference between the two chambers and finalizing a deal that would pass through both houses.   The budget committee has until Dec 13th to report back to the House and Senate leaders with a compromised budget plan.

The key is that if they do not pass a budget on Dec 13 (oh thats Friday the 13th , eerie) they are scheduled to leave for winter break and return in early January.  This would mean that Congress would have about one week to get the budget passed through the House, the Senate, and be signed by the President by January 15th when current funding resolution expires.

Some members of Congress think this is unacceptable and are calling on Speaker Boehner to keep Congress in session until a budget is passed.

This week the beltway press has started reporting on the budget deals being tossed around and there is good news and bad news.  Government Executive is reporting that Sen. Murray and Rep. Ryan are very close to a two-year deal that “set spending levels and soften sequester cuts.” Of course that is if Murray and Ryan can come to an agreement first.

In a meeting with conservative lawmakers on Thursday morning, Ryan told them to expect the framework of a budget agreement to be announced on Tuesday, giving both parties time to study its components.

“If we don’t have a deal by Tuesday, we probably won’t have a deal at all,” Ryan said, according to people in the room.”  (GovExec)

Ezra Klien’s Wankblog is also reporting some good news about the proposed budget.

The budget deal Patty Murray and Paul Ryan are crafting isn’t a “grand bargain.” It doesn’t put the nation’s finances on a vastly different path (or even any different path). It doesn’t reform the tax code or overhaul Medicare. It doesn’t include infrastructure spending or chained-CPI. It doesn’t even replace all of sequestration.

This means that Social Security, and Medicare are safe for another day!  This is good news for millions of seniors and those who are close to retirement.

Now the bad news, the budget does not end the draconian sequester cuts.  It ‘eases’ the cuts.  The budget deal would add $40 billion dollars back into the budget ($25 Billion in the 2015 budget), with half going to military spending and the other half to domestic spending.

This year the GOP cut $4 billion from the SNAP or Food Stamps program.  Not to mention the $40 million from head start programs. The list goes on and on with more and more cuts and forced furloughs and layoffs to federal workers.   This budget will not fix that problem either, only force agencies to operate at a reduced budgetary level.

The irony here is that currently Sen Murray and Rep Ryan are haggling over $65 Billion dollars in the budget.  That is exactly how much we are adding from the current Sequester levels.  Is it a coincidence that, that is how much they are haggling about?

So where are the Republicans going to come up with the extra money to give back to the domestic spending programs?  You guessed it, their favorite secret stash, the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERs).

Rep. Paul Ryan is proposing a dramatic 2% increase on employee contributions to the FERs program, while federal employees have not seen a pay raise in almost 5 years. Federal workers who were hired in 2013 already got whacked with a 2.3% increased contribution over existing employees. Couple the lack of pay raises with the average inflation of around 2%, federal workers are losing money every year just staying in their jobs.  Now Rep Paul Ryan wants workers to take an additional 2% pay cut  — I mean increased retirement contribution — because he does not want to increase taxes on the wealthy or corporations?

The only working people that have paid a price so far in trying to bring down the deficit have been federal workers…. It is inappropriate to further look to the pockets of federal employees at this point in time,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

When will the Congressional Republicans stop using the federal employees retirement accounts as their personal piggy banks.  When will they do what is right an start making the corporations pay their fair share?

 

A Bargaining Update From The Manchester Newspaper Guild With The UNION LEADER

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The Manchester Newspaper Guild is in a bitter labor dispute with the NH Union Leader.  The MNG is fighting just to keep workers from being pushed even further down by their employer.  Union Leader employees have already given back thousands in concessions over the past few years, yet the Union Leader wants more.

The MNG meet with representatives of the Union Leader for the seventh time to continue their negotiations.  After the bargaining session was completed, the MNG  posted a message of how the bargaining process went.

It’s obvious that discussion at the table is not moving the company thus far. The bargaining committee believes that it will take increased member mobilization to change that.

The MNG talked about a few of the issues that are holding up any agreement.

–On outside activities, the Guild has proposed eliminating the restriction that members may not work for a competitor. The rationale is that givebacks our members have made have significantly hurt their financial situation, and they should be allowed to use their skills anywhere to supplement their income.

 –The company wants to eliminate the step increases in wages detailed in Article 2, as well as the limit on inexperienced employees, contending they don’t plan on hiring anyone in the future who would require being paid less than top scale due to their experience.

 –The company said it wishes to eliminate smoking based on concerns that a purchaser of the building or a new landlord should operations move would make the current smoking language difficult to implement.”

The NH Labor News will continue to keep you informed about future negotiations and ways you can show your support for the Manchester Newspaper Guild.  Be sure to check out their new website “Where Is The Fairness – Union Leader (WTF-UL.org)” and sign their online petition.

 

AFGE Statement on Health Care Rate Increase for Federal Employees, Retirees

AFGE Logo 2

AFGE Logo 2WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. today issued the following statement in response to the announcement that premiums for enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will increase an average of 4.4% in January:

“Today’s announcement that FEHBP premiums will increase an average of 4.4% next year for enrollees is unacceptable. Federal employees have had their pay frozen for an unprecedented three consecutive years, and more than a million employees lost a week or more of their wages this year when they were furloughed under sequestration.

“We are days away from the government shutting down unless Congress passes a new fiscal year budget, which will force more than 800,000 federal employees to stay home without pay. And unless sequestration is cancelled, federal employees are facing another year of unpaid furloughs and even permanent layoffs.

“With everything else hanging over their heads, federal employees and retirees simply can’t afford this increase in their health insurance premiums. The average salary of our members is $50,000 a year, which means they’re taking home about $500 a week after taxes, retirement and health insurance. Hiking premiums by another 4.4 percent next year means our members will be bringing home even less income.”

Workers At Orlando Health Hospitals Are Not Backing Down, Nor Should They

JAMA

The struggle between Orlando Health and its employees has really started to make waves.

There has been mainstream media coverage, here and here.

Read the NH Labor News articles on the situation, here and here.

Just so we are all on the same page, let’s recap.  The CEO of Orlando Health, Sherrie Satirik, says the hospitals are loosing money and they need to save over $18 million a year.  To make these saving a reality, the CEO and Executive board have decided to cut all night and weekend differentials from their workers.  This is going to cost workers between $7,000 and $15,000 a year.

Let’s not forget that the that Orlando Region Medical Center (a part of Orlando Health) is home to John Hillenmeyer, ranked as one of the top 25 highest paid non-profit hospital CEOs in the country.  Add into the fact that executives at Orlando Health pocketed $10.3 million in compensation last year.

It sure seems like they could make a few revisions to their executive compensation package, and that would help to balance their budget a little.

As of now over 4,000 people have signed a petition started by a RN at Winnie Parker Hospital asking Orlando Health to reconsider cutting the workers’ differentials.

It appears they are getting noticed.  The CEO of Orlando Health, Sherrie Sitarik, announced that Orlando Health would be delaying the forced pay cuts for one month.   Despite the delay, a spokesperson for Orlando Health said the decision to make the cuts is final: “that cannot be changed.”

JAMASitarik also warned that if the workers really wanted to keep these differentials, that Orlando Health would be “forced” to make another round of layoffs – of more than 300 employees.   Fewer nurses means higher nurse-to-patient ratios, lower quality-of-care, and higher mortality rates.  (Read the JAMA article “Hospital Nurse Staffing and Patient Mortality, Nurse Burnout, and Job Dissatisfaction” here.)

Some are wondering if the corporation had planned to lay off more workers even before they announced the pay cuts.  On August 2nd. the Orlando Health spokesperson told WFTV:

“Efficiency enhancements, expense reduction, restructuring processes, and reorganization of staff, are expected as part of this ongoing process.”

 This was days before Orlando Health announced they would be cutting workers’ pay.

National Nurses United has offered assistance to the workers – and it looks like they may need the outside help.

Eilynn Mcgowan, a RN from an Orlando Health hospital, told me “there are many people behind the scenes offering support but are afraid to step forward.” They are afraid they will lose their jobs if they speak out.  While Mcgowan is also worried about losing her job, she said “At some point people need to stop being afraid because that is what they (Orlando Health) want.  I refuse to back down to them.”

Mcgowan – like other Orlando Health nurses and staff – is angry that these cuts are coming after employees worked so hard to get MAGNET Hospital status.  Mcgowan said a lot of the MAGNET status accreditation comes from nurse’s satisfaction.

“A Magnet hospital is stated to be one where nursing delivers excellent patient outcomes, where nurses have a high level of job satisfaction, and where there is a low staff nurse turnover rate and appropriate grievance resolution. Magnet status is also said to indicate nursing involvement in data collection and decision-making in patient care delivery. The idea is that Magnet nursing leaders value staff nurses, involve them in shaping research-based nursing practice, and encourage and reward them for advancing in nursing practice. Magnet hospitals are supposed to have open communication between nurses and other members of the health care team, and an appropriate personnel mix to attain the best patient outcomes and staff work environment.” (1)

Arnold Palmer Hospital was recognized as a MAGNET hospital in 2013.  It’s not that many months later.  How can these hospitals say they are “listening to their staff” while they arbitrarily cut pay and lay off workers?

Being a MAGNET hospital means a lot to workers and to patients.

An October 2011 study by Linda Aiken and colleagues found that Magnet hospitals “have better work environments, a more highly educated nursing workforce, superior nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, and higher nurse satisfaction than non- Magnet hospitals.” (2)

Click here for more information on why hospitals and staff push for magnet status.

There is another reason that Orlando Health and Arnold Palmer Hospital pushed for MAGNET status. Like everything else in the corporate world it all boils down to money.  MAGNET Hospitals become a part of the pay for performance system.

“Medicare will launch the hospital VBP program, in which pay-for-performance programs will receive incentives for demonstrated excellence and improvements in patient safety and effective care.” (3)

This means that MAGNET hospitals get more money in reimbursement and extra incentives.

Eilynn Mcgowan told me the she firmly believed that “Orlando Health must have been planning these cuts before they received their MAGNET status”.   Hindsight is always 20/20.  Corporate executives don’t make decisions like this overnight.  She is obviously correct.

In November of 2012 the Orlando Sentinel reported:

“In the largest staff reduction in its nearly 100-year history, Orlando Health is cutting up to 400 jobs starting immediately, hospital system officials announced Monday.  The move is part of a broader effort to position the hospital system for the health-care overhaul, CEO Sherrie Sitarik said.

The elimination of jobs will occur in two phases and represents a 2 percent to 3 percent reduction in the system’s 16,000-person work force, said Orlando Health spokeswoman Kena Lewis. The cuts affect all departments and all eight of the system’s hospitals, including Orlando Regional Medical Center and Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, two of the system’s better-known facilities.”  (Emphasis added)

The second phase of those cuts were announced on August 2nd of this year.

This whole thing sounds fishy.  They laid off hundreds of workers, while pushing the staff to tell the accreditation team that they were happy and respected in their jobs, all to get MAGNET status.  Then after they get MAGNET status, they stick it to the workers with more layoffs and pay cuts.

It makes you wonder: what would these workers say now, if they were asked those same questions today?

The workers at Orlando Health hospitals are not taking this laying down.  They started a petition and are quickly organizing to form a solid negotiating team to fight back against these cuts.  Even if you do not work for Orlando Health – if you support these hard working people, start by signing their petition.

What Do You Mean My Flight Is Canceled Due To SEQUESTRATION???

air traffic controller

The newsrooms are a buzz with the information that was just released from the Federal Aviation Administration on the potential impacts of the Sequestration.   Sequestration is the name given to the draconian cuts that are going to rip apart the government and our economy at the same time.

Today Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, released a letter to the aviation community highlighting the impacts.

1.  Furloughs of 11-22 days between April and Oct 1st for all 47,000 FAA Employees.

2. Eliminate midshifts at 60 towers across the country

3. Close over 100 air traffic control towers (link to potential closure list)

4. Reduce preventative maintenance and equipment provisioning and support for all National Airspace System equipment.

These impacts will create massive delays for air travelers, and any business that relies on aviation to move their people or product.  Aviation contributes $1.3 Trillion to the national economy.  With over 70,000 operations every single day and 130 million operations annually, the FAA oversees all of them.

Sec. Lahood also points out that flights to the major airports,  JFK, IAD, SFO, LAX could see delays of 90 minutes or more durning peak times.   Those delays will only create more waves throughout the system as gridlock sets in.

The President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Paul Rinaldi, had this to say after hearing the news.

“Today’s announcement from the FAA unfortunately confirms the concerns we have been warning about for months – sequestration will significantly and perhaps permanently undermine the capacity of the National Airspace System. The fact that they will not just be furloughing critical FAA personnel but closing air traffic control towers means the system will be even more compromised than anticipated. We share the FAA’s commitment to preserving the safety of the system despite these draconian cuts. Safety is always the top priority of air traffic controllers, but the reality is this – safety will be preserved at the expense of operations across the country. Once towers are closed, the airports they serve may be next. Additionally, we believe the delay estimates provided by the FAA are conservative and the potential for disruptions could be much higher.

“Every one of these actions by the FAA will have an impact far beyond inconveniencing travelers. Local economies will be diminished, military exercises will be cancelled and jobs will be lost. There’s no telling how long these effects will be felt because many of these service reductions may not be reversed. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association continues to urge the nation’s policy-makers to find a solution that prevents or mitigates the impact of sequestration in a way that does not diminish the world’s safest and most efficient national airspace system.”

These 47,000 FAA Employees are real people.  They have families, children, and mortgages.   Like many Americans, they probably cannot afford to be forced out of work for an entire month without pay.  Yet this is what Congress is forcing them to do.

We must take action now to stop these draconian cuts from every happening.   Call your elected Representative and tell them to stop this now!  Call your Senator.  Call the White House.  Tell them all that these cuts are hurting hard working families throughout the country.  Tell them how these cuts are going to directly effect you.

Congress created these Sequestration cuts and they can take them away.  It is time to stop playing chicken with our economy and the lives of millions of federal employees and their families.  End the sequestration now, while you still can!

Congress To Federal Workers We Have Your Back!

US CONGRESS

I have talked a lot about the attacks on workers in the Federal Sector.  Lately there has been much discussion about the Lame Duck Session and Sequestration.  As the session opens a surprising move is made by nine members of the US House.

Government Executive reports that these Representatives have already signed a letter to all members that the Federal Employees have ‘paid their fair share’.

Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va.; Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; Frank R. Wolf, R-Va.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va.; Robert J. Wittman, R-Va.; Donna F. Edwards, D-Md.; John P. Sarbanes, D-Md.; and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., all signed the letter.

It is no surprise that all of these Reps surround the Washington D.C. area since these districts are very heavily populated with Federal workers.

“We respectfully request that you carefully consider the implications that any proposed agreement would have on these Americans so that it reflects the substantial budget savings that the federal workforce has contributed thus far.”

Over the last two years Congress has trimmed the budget to a tune of $103 Billion dollars  right from the Federal workers pockets.  They accomplished this with combination of pay freezes and an increase in retirement contributions.

These nine House Reps are not alone.  The Senators are already making their statements to leave the Feds out of the debt deal.

“Sen. [Daniel] Akaka opposes using any employee benefit as a pay-for because federal workers are already sacrificing with the pay freeze and changes to annuity contributions for new employees,” Jesse Broder Van Dyke, a spokesman for the Hawaii Democratic senator, told Government Executive.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Government Executive he thinks federal employees have paid their fair share.

“Federal workers have already sacrificed tens of billions of dollars over the past several years toward reducing the deficit,” Cummings said. “House Republicans should stop treating middle-class federal employees like a piggy bank they can raid without asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share. If we’re serious about resolving the fiscal cliff, we must take a balanced approach that includes both increased revenue and targeted spending cuts while protecting middle-class American workers.”

Labor unions have been up and down the hill working to protect the pay of the members. Recently a coalition of Postal and Federal unions wrote a letter of their own to Congress. They stated

“Federal and postal employees and their families are hardworking, middle-class Americans who are struggling during these tough times just like other Americans,” the group wrote. “No other group has been asked to financially contribute the way they have, and it is time our nation’s leaders found other ways to reduce the deficit than continually taking from those who have dedicated their lives to public service.”

Federal employees must protect themselves from the crushing cuts that could be coming down on Federal workers.  With the help of some very powerful unions and allies on both sides of the aisle, the Federal employees may just make it through this round of budget cuts.

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