AFL-CIO AFGE Host Rallies VS. Budget Cuts; Congress Ignores Them

From Seattle to Albuquerque, from San Diego to Chicago, the AFL-CIO and one of its major unions, the American Federation of Government Employees, hosted mass rallies on March 20 to protest the federal budget cuts, called the “sequester,” and to highlight their impact on workers and citizens nationwide.  But Congress didn’t listen.

The object of the protests was to convince lawmakers to roll back the cuts, which total $85 billion in the six months that began March 1, and an estimated $1.2 trillion for the next decade.  Lawmakers gave the Defense Department flexibility in its cuts.

The cuts are supposed to be half from domestic programs and half from defense.  Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans programs are excluded from the cuts – but not the workers who administer those programs.  They’ll get unpaid furloughs.

The furloughs will slash their incomes and they won’t be able to provide needed services, either, AFGE, which represents them, said.  That brought protests at Social Security offices in Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Grand Rapids and Bay City, Mich., among other cities.  The AFL-CIO planned 100 rallies and AFGE added dozens more.

But lawmakers turned a deaf ear.  The GOP-run House and the Democratic-run Senate both decided, in the money bill to keep the government going through Sept. 30, to continue the sequester.  Democratic President Barack Obama signed the legislation.

The sequester not only includes the furloughs, but also eliminates federal worker cost-of-living raises for a third straight year – one reason AFGE, which represents hundreds of thousands of federal workers, hit the streets.

The unions had other reasons for demonstrating.  In Philadelphia, the Service Employees joined in to talk about cuts in programs for the poor.

In Detroit, a community-wide forum, including council members from both the city and Wayne County, discussed the vast array of cuts the economically ailing metropolis and its residents would suffer when sequestration hit.

Protesters in North Carolina and San Diego demanded that – as the Californians put it – “banks and oil companies should pay their fair share” of the costs of government that benefits them, rather than having workers shoulder the whole load via the cuts.

At the Portsmouth, N.H., naval shipyard, and at a naval base on Lake Michigan in northern Indiana, defense workers highlighted how the sequester costs jobs and pay.

In Seattle and in Beckley, W. Va., corrections officers, members of AFGE, protested cuts that would put them in danger due to short-staffing and leave prisons overcrowded.

“Our message is very clear: Sequestration has got to go,” AFGE President J. David Cox said.  “If federal employees are furloughed without pay, if offices and plants are shut down, if vacancies aren’t filled because of these across-the-board budget cuts, then federal employees won’t be able to do the work the American public expects.

“In many towns and cities, the federal government is one of the largest employers – if not the largest employer – and is a major economic driver,” he added.  “Sequestration will force more than a million federal workers to take pay cuts of between 20% and 40% between now and the end of September.  Less money in their pockets means less money to spend locally on food, clothing and other goods and services.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka laid the blame for the sequester on Congress, and specifically on its ruling Republicans: The GOP/Tea Party-run House and a Senate strangled by Republican filibusters.

“Republican hostage-takers demand devastating budget cuts that slash more jobs and funding for the very programs working families need to get back on their feet. Republicans continue manufacturing crises to get their way, but we cannot afford to give in to their ransom demands and risk harming our still fragile economy.  Working people have sacrificed enough in the form of lost jobs and furloughed pay,” he said.

Economists calculate the sequester would cost the U.S. 750,000 jobs and restart the Great Recession, he noted.