Federal workers head to Hill to push value of government to taxpayers

WASHINGTON—It’s not just about their jobs, though that’s a big part of it. It’s about the value that federal workers give taxpayers.

That was the message hundreds of National Treasury Employees Union members, in D.C. for their legislative conference, brought to Congress on March 2.

The workers, from agencies ranging from the Treasury’s Bureau of Fiscal Services to the IRS to the Securities and Exchange Commission to the Environmental Protection Agency – and more – were there to tell lawmakers the constant denigration of federal workers is wrong.

Without federal workers, NTEU members said, taxpayers wouldn’t get refunds, planes wouldn’t be able to safely fly, corporate financial malefactors wouldn’t get caught and the nation’s borders wouldn’t be protected.

In turn, the workers who perform those duties – and more – need to be treated with respect, given a decent raise after a three-year pay freeze and a later furlough, and get due process rights on the job. And their agencies need to be respected, too, they added.

The NTEU was the second big federal worker union to converge on Congress in the last two months, arguing that federal jobs and workers perform vital services. Delegates from the American Federation of Government Employees, a larger, AFL-CIO union, did so in February. NTEU, with 150,000 members in 31 agencies, is independent of both labor federations.

The pushes to protect agencies and jobs come at a key time: The GOP Trump administration unveiled a budget outline with huge cuts in domestic discretionary spending at agencies like the IRS, the SEC and particularly the EPA. It would lose one-fourth of its budget, have to dump huge responsibilities for clean air and clean water, and one-fifth of its workers.

“We need to be able to do the jobs we were trained to do and we need to do them without political interference,” NTEU President Tony Reardon told the crowd.

The EPA cuts concerned Brent Maier of NTEU Chapter 295 in Fairfield, Calif., a worker in the agency’s San Francisco office, when he met with Reps. Ami Bera, Gerry McNerney and Jim Costa, all D-Calif.  All backed federal workers, as did lawmakers who addressed the crowd outdoors. Congress’ ruling Republicans, as a rule, don’t.

“Bera was very supportive of our agenda and the topics we raised” in the 10-minute face-to-face meeting, Maier said. So was McNerney, “who realizes the fight we’re in and appreciates the work EPA does. He’s particularly into clean energy.”

Other workers reported more-cautious reactions among lawmakers and aides. Staffers for Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., told the Bureau of Fiscal Services worker, who declined to give his name, that their boss “would give it a try” on preserving jobs, due process for workers, and pay. Jobs “are where the biggest cuts will come,” that bureau worker added.

Sometimes the requests were more specific, and in one case – in Fresno, Calif. – they’ve picked up a House Republican, Devin Nunes, says IRS worker Jason Fisk of Fresno.

Trump wants to cut the IRS by $1 billion next year, or 14 percent. Separately from that, the agency wants to close its Fresno service center, which handles paper tax returns, within five years. That would put 3,000 people, many of them seasonal workers making $24,000-$36,000 yearly out on the street in a city with a 9.5 percent jobless rate.

The IRS says it would shift all the work to Kansas City, which has trouble filling those seasonal slots. Kansas City’s jobless rate is 3.9 percent.

Nunes and Democrat David Valadao “are getting letters and workers are watching,” Fisk, a member of NTEU Chapter 97, says. “When you combine the hiring freeze and this consolidation, it’s a big hit on us.” For the lawmakers, he explained, keeping jobs in their districts is a bipartisan and nonpartisan cause.

Source: PAI