AFGE’s Cox: ‘Unpredictability’ is biggest concern about Trump

WASHINGTON–“Unpredictability” is the biggest concern that J. David Cox, president of the largest union for federal workers, has about their incoming boss, Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

In a wide-ranging Dec. 8 interview with reporters who cover federal workforce issues, Cox, whose American Federation of Government Employees now has more than 309,000 members, added the uncertainty comes from the Manhattan mogul’s changing positions.

It also comes from whether Trump will continue to defy Republican orthodoxy that demands cuts in Social Security and Medicare and that trashes federal workers.

Cox expects Trump to hold to his stands against cutting Social Security and Medicare and AFGE will support him if he does. “Trump has not only said ‘no,’ but he’s said ‘heck, no,'” on those two issues, the union leader notes. That’s “even though” GOP House Speaker “Paul Ryan is chomping at the bit” to cut both.

 

But Trump will also take office at the head of a party that has made federal workers a punching bag for decades, and whose 2016 platform does so. The platform questions the very worth of unionization of the federal workforce. And it pledges to reverse Democratic President Barack Obama’s decision to let the nation’s 45,000 airport screeners, formally called Transportation Security Officers, vote on union representation.

AFGE, which had represented the TSOs informally even before that vote, won it. And if Trump yanks formal unionization rights from the screeners, as GOP President George W. Bush did, AFGE will continue to represent them, Cox said. And AFGE also will keep growing, after a net gain of 1,200 in November, he predicted. It has gained members for 25 years.

The catch is that on unionizing the screeners, or anything else, nobody knows which way Trump will jump.

“It’s no secret that Mr. Trump has had occasions where the world is perfect today, and tomorrow morning he’s diabolically opposed to where he was the day before,” said Cox, a retired Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatric nurse.

In addition, Trump will have “a learning curve” to undertake in the Oval Office, Cox noted. “Running the government is different than running a private corporation. There’s a lot of checks and balances,” he explained.

One of those checks and balances is due process for federal workers whom their bosses try to discipline, demote or fire. GOP lawmakers passed, and Obama signed, legislation to make it easier to fire top managers in the VA, following a scandal over those managers’ covering up veterans’ long waiting times for care and its impact. AFGE members exposed that coverup, Cox noted.

That’s led other Republicans to propose extending the easy firing, with elimination of due process rights, to the rest of the agency. Cox said AFGE will vigorously oppose such legislation, not just because it would affect all VA workers but because the GOP could then extend it to the entire federal workforce.

“Demolition of due process rights doesn’t work for the agency, doesn’t work for the worker and doesn’t work for the American people,” Cox declared.  “Besides, if you take (due process) rights away, how can there be whistleblowers?”

Other issues Cox discussed included:

• Obama is expected to propose a 1.9 percent pay hike for federal workers for calendar 2017, in line with minimum legal standards. That includes locality pay for high-cost areas such as D.C., New York and San Francisco. AFGE is already talking with lawmakers — including some of the 51 congressional Republicans it endorsed in 2016 — about a larger increase and is mobilizing members for it, too.

• The U.S. people, who are federal workers’ customers, would revolt if the Republicans shut down the government again. There would also be “an immediate outcry from the American people” if Trump imposes, as he has promised, a federal hiring freeze, Cox said.

Workers themselves would protest, too, Cox predicted. “Doctors at the VA still want to take care of veterans, the Border Patrol still wants to protect our country and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) inspectors still want to protect our food.”

• Cox views the U.S. Senate as a roadblock to some of the more wild plans lawmakers are hatching, affecting federal workers, or everyone else. The incoming Senate will be 52-48 Republican “but it takes 60 senators” to pass most legislation, he noted. “And there are many senators” of both parties “who support federal employees and the services they provide.”

• Cox declined to grade Obama’s overall record for federal workers. “We certainly didn’t get much on COLAs,” Cox said with a smile, referring to cost-of-living increases. Due to that and the pay freezes, real income for federal workers dropped 6.5 percent this decade, he said.

On the other hand, Obama “moved forward in expanding benefits to same-sex partners” and “has taken a strong stand against discrimination in any form or fashion within the federal government.” Having grown up in the segregated South, and seen its negative impact, Cox, a North Carolinian, strongly praised the president’s anti-discrimination stands.

• Trump beat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton because he “did a good job of talking about bread-and-butter issues and Secretary Clinton did not.”  Unions, including AFGE, backed Clinton, though two AFGE sectors, representing Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, endorsed Trump.

Source: PAI