Democratic candidates and the federal workforce

Westerville, Ohio October 15, 2019: Political candidate Buttons and Pins for sale nearby Otterbein College the eve of 2020 DNC debate.  Eric Glenn /

Photo credit: Eric Glenn/

A few of the Democratic candidates for president are making federal employment, civil service issues and government procurement part of their campaign platforms. With the Iowa caucuses less than a week away, here's a look at how the candidates stack up on issues of interest to federal employees.

As part of his labor platform dubbed "Workplace Democracy," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) supports the right of public-sector workers to strike and bargain over wages, a tactic that such workers were not allowed to exercise during the 2018 federal government shutdown, forcing them to work without pay or on furlough for 35 days.

Sanders also backs the FAMILY Act, a bill that Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced that would expand the paid-leave policy passed on Dec. 21 to cover those who care for sick relatives.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) published a white paper on Jan. 21, titled "Restoring Integrity and Competence to Government After Trump," that outlined exact steps she would take to better protect and strengthen the career civil service, which has seen historic levels of vacancies since the Trump administration first entered office. Among her proposals were removing all political appointees, barring them from becoming career officials and putting a six-year moratorium on lobbyists joining the federal government after retiring from advocacy work.

If elected, Warren would also immediately address key vacancies and allow the Office of Personnel Management to use its direct hiring authority to "identify areas of severe shortage and allow agencies to waive competitive hiring processes in these areas of critical need." She also proposed allowing OPM to reinstate former government officials in a streamlined hiring process, a proposal that the current office proposed and then quickly abandoned. Warren also supports the current 12-week paid-leave policy, but she wants to include leave for those caring for a sick relative similar to the FAMILY Act legislation.

Fellow big-name contenders like former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) support similar legislation with regards to both paid leave and union rights for federal and public sector workers.

Biden, also a proponent of the PRO Act and similar legislation, would reinstate an Obama administration executive order that required the government to consider a company's labor practices when considering them for a federal contract and prevent them from earning contracts if they don't pledge to uphold neutrality during union drives and offer at least $15 an hour minimum wage and other benefits.

Both Klobuchar and Biden pledged to withdraw the controversial workforce orders that President Donald Trump signed into law in May 2018 that public unions have said devastated their ability to conduct routine membership business or negotiate contracts with their agencies.

Biden also said he wants to create a cabinet-level working group devoted to driving union membership in both private and public sectors, as well as empower federal agencies like the National Labor Review Board to eradicate bad-faith bargaining and force employers back to the mediation table when new contracts are being negotiated. Biden also expressed support to expand paid leave to include caring for children, sick relatives or elderly parents.

Buttigieg in comparison, called for "[giving] preference in government contracts to firms that treat their workers well," whose employees are unionized and are offered "good pay and benefits." His platform called for granting more resources to and entrusting the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to ensure that such companies are given preference when bidding for federal contracts. Like his fellow high-profile Democratic rivals, he also supports the FAMILY Act and would create "a national paid family and medical leave fund similar to successful policies in several states."

Klobuchar touts her co-sponsorship of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act and her support for the PRO Act on her campaign website. Klobuchar's platform also called for guaranteeing back pay to federal contractors during government shutdowns. Like her rivals, she expressed support for 12 weeks of paid family leave, as well as allowing workers to earn paid sick leave.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), technology entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg support similar family leave policies.

In an interview with FCW, a member of Bloomberg's presidential campaign confirmed that the candidate supports expanding current leave policies to include those who are primary caregivers for elderly and sick relatives. "Our [paid-leave] policy would cover providing paid leave at 12 weeks for the birth or adoption of a child and caregiving for a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner, as well as elderly relatives," the Bloomberg campaign said, adding that Bloomberg's company currently offers its employees 26 weeks of paid leave.

Bennet's jobs plan would offer workers 70% of their current wage while on leave and would include leave options for primary caregivers, in addition to new parents. His platform also called for bolstering workers' abilities to organize and bargain collectively in a bid to reverse years of declining union membership through policies such as making dues eligible for tax deduction and bolstering the National Labor Review Board to reflect more worker representation. While light on specifics, Yang's platform promised to "fair employment practice policies such as federally mandated paid time off and paid family leave" and deploy his cornerstone Freedom Dividend guaranteed to every American adult as a "permanent strike fund."

Powerful national labor unions like the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations have held back on endorsing any Presidential candidates so far, though Sanders counts endorsements from groups like the United Teachers Los Angeles and New Hampshire's Service Employees International Union Local 1984, which represent tens of thousands of workers. The International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers elected to endorse Biden on Jan. 22.

Unions in early-voting states like Nevada have not yet made endorsements, though the Culinary Workers Local 226 recently held a town hall with six candidates who were looking to garner its support. According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, public-sector workers comprise a large chunk of the total unionized U.S. labor force, with some 33% holding union membership compared to the private sector's 6.2%.


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