Feds protest Trump's workforce plans

As senators voted to advance White House picks to lead OPM, unionized feds protested the president's civil service plans.

AFGE National President J. David Cox addresses Feb 14 2017 DC rally photo courtesy AFGE
 

J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, addresses a Feb. 14, 2017 rally. (Photo courtesy: AFGE)

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs voted Feb. 14 to advance President Donald Trump's nominations for Office of Personnel Management director, Jeff Pon, and for deputy director, Michael Rigas. The nominees, who both appeared before the committee last October, now await full Senate confirmation.

Outside the Capitol, meanwhile, federal employees voiced their grievances with the administration and Congress's stances towards the workforce.

Brandishing signs that read, "proud union member," "we make America happen and we vote," and "keep your tiny hands off our pay and retirement," members of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, rallied on Capitol Hill Feb. 14 to support pay raises for federal employees — and to protest the administration's proposed workforce cuts, civilian pay freeze in fiscal year 2019 and call for expanded firing authorities.

"I don't think [Trump] loves as at all," AFGE National President J. David Cox said onstage.

Members of Congress -- Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), plus House and Senate Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- donned AFGE embroidered scarves and beanies and made on-stage speaking appearances in support of federal employees.

Rank-and-file feds raised specific concerns facing their agencies that are impacting their missions, as well as concerns about administration plans to change civil service rules.

Jim Rihel, a Department of Veterans Affairs employee and union representative from Pennsylvania, said he was in attendance to support pay raises for employees and to "stop the [VA Accountability Act] from spreading throughout the entire federation," as Trump called for in his State of the Union.

"It's a good talking point, but it's not being done right," he said. "We're not against accountability by any means, but [the law] wound up giving the same people who were supposed to be held accountable… more power over employees."

Travis Riggs, a local union chapter president and VA employee from Idaho, said the impact of the expanded firing authorities have led to excessive penalties for lower-level VA employees, while not holding management officials accountable enough.

"Congress has us on a race to the bottom of the barrel as far as who we're able to recruit and retain," he said, adding the law "has had the absolute opposite effect that Congress intended."

Colleen Allen-Roig, another VA employee and Army veteran from Maine, said while she was opposed to the on-stage negativity directed at Trump and lawmakers, she wanted to make sure VA facilities are able to fill their staffing needs.

"I don't want it to degrade our message," she said, adding it was more important to focus on "taking care of the people doing the work. Not giving them more than they deserve — just to allow them to continue doing the work."

Howard Egerman, who served in the Navy before joining a California office of the Social Security Administration, said his "major concern" was proposals that could affect his agency's ability to attract and retain young talent.

"When people retire, they're not replaced," he said. "What has been happening at Social Security is they've been gutting our agency."

As a result, delivery of service has slowed, he said. "The waiting room is crowded… And it's been worse in the last year, year-and-a-half."

Sharon Boyde, a long-time Environmental Protection Agency worker based out of Washington, D.C., said the steep budget cuts and exodus of employees have put EPA "under attack" and threaten to "destroy our agency."

"I have 37 years at EPA, and for the first time … I'm hearing management say they no longer know what our priorities are," she said.

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