Unionized feds rally with Hill Democrats

Nancy Pelosi addresses a union rally on Capitol Hill. Sept. 24, 2019. FCW photo by Lia Russell 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses a union rally on Capitol Hill (Photo credit: Lia Russell)

Unionized federal employees, union leaders and Hill Democrats rallied on Capitol Hill on Sept. 24 in opposition to the Trump administration's workforce policy, including three executive orders currently being disputed in court, the current state of union negotiations that includes rollbacks of telework agreements and a planned merger of the Office of Personnel Management into the General Services Administration.

"This administration is trying to crush our federal workers, brothers and sisters. The executive orders, the federal shutdown, and now political hacks are tearing our union contracts apart," said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. "They're trying to impose collective bargaining agreements that aren't collective and weren't bargained for, and sure as hell weren't agreed to."

Members and leaders of the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers were also represented at the rally.

The rally came about a week after the Office of Personnel Management proposed new rules that allow for more oversight of the probationary period for beginning federal workers, give new flexibility for disciplining workers accused of misconduct or persistent poor performance and eliminate the practice of clearing employee records of misconduct complaints or adverse action as a condition of a settlement.

Ty Owens, an IT specialist at the Department of Health and Human Services and president of NTEU Chapter 229, told FCW that many factors that made federal work an attractive option when he started 16 years ago are now under siege.

"When I originally started, the federal job was one that most people would look to and want to get," he said in an interview. "But right now, because of the attacks on federal employees and their retirement [options], it's very hard to recruit young and talented people. As a matter of fact, I would tell my son not to go work for the federal government, under the current situation we find ourselves." He mentioned that as a union official, he's had to file more grievances than in previous years, when unions could sit down with managers to reach a compromise. "There's more bullying going on now, nepotism and intimidation [are] rampant throughout HHS at this time."

Greg Grass, an employee at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at HHS and a member of NTEU Chapter 286, said the Trump administration "doesn't care about the rule of law, it doesn't care about previously negotiated agreements, it's just saying it can do whatever it wants and making arbitrary agreements."

Grass added that new workplace rules went into effect last month that mandated him and his coworkers to create entirely new work schedules, barring him from teleworking as he has for the past nine years, and disrupting other workers' childcare and transportation schedules, which meant added living costs. According to Grass, SAMHSA gave them a week to resubmit new schedules and two weeks to comply, without providing rationale for the new changes. "It's an unnecessary hardship for no purpose."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made an appearance in support, along with other Democratic Party leaders including Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mazie Hirano (D-Hawai'i) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), as well as Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

"We must remain vigilant and demand protection and respect for professionalism and nonpartisanship, in the nature of our federal service," said Pelosi. "We respect our public service employees, who are engaged in meeting the needs of the American public."

Correction: This story was corrected to identify Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, as a speaker at the rally. The story originally ascribed his remarks to another union official.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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