Union Leaders Welcome End of Federal Shutdown, Lifting of Debt Limit

WASHINGTON—Union leaders welcomed Congress’ end of the 2-week partial federal shutdown/lockout and the decision to raise the nation’s debt limit, thus avoiding what would have been a first-ever default by the U.S.

But one leader, American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox, also warned we could be right back in the same partisan soup in three months when the legislation mandating those two moves expires.

And another, the United Food and Commercial Workers, said an unscrupulous employer in D.C.’s Virginia suburbs used the shutdown – which shuttered the National Labor Relations Board among other agencies – to illegally fire 30 pro-union workers.

“On behalf of the 670,000 federal employees represented by AFGE, I am thrilled a deal was reached to put our members back to work and restore the services American taxpayers count on,” said Cox, most of whose members were locked out of their jobs for more than two weeks.  Cox repeatedly calls the shutdown a lockout.

“Thousands could not manage through the shutdown on goodwill alone, and they lost their apartments, daycare slots, and good credit scores.

“Make no mistake about it: This is not a happy day for federal employees.  The Senate deal is simply a brief reprieve from the suffering federal employees and their families endured for the past 16 days.  We cannot accept another government shutdown in just a few short weeks.  Federal workers and the public they serve have suffered enough,” Cox declared.

The lockout, caused by Tea Party demands that any law funding the government must also “de-fund” the 2010 Affordable Care Act – the Tea Party insultingly calls the law “Obamacare” – idled at least 800,000 federal workers starting on Oct. 1.

When that tactic failed, the Tea Party schemed to block the debt limit increase. No hike in the debt limit would have caused the U.S. to default on its bond interest payments and stop payments to Social Security recipients, veterans, workers, vendors and more.  Cox, a Veterans Affairs Department worker on leave, concentrated on the impact on both moves on the workers and the public.

“Countless federal workers have been forced to choose between paying their mortgage and feeding their families, between buying gas to get to work or paying the electric company,” Cox said. “Countless members have called me in tears looking for answers to the financial burden this reckless shutdown has put on their families.

“Federal workers are also deeply frustrated by the impact the shutdown has had on their ability to serve the public,” he said.  They wanted “to go to work and provide for their families and their country, but were turned away by shameless politics.

“When federal employees look back on this fiasco, they will remember the veterans who were prevented from filing for disability benefits, the patients turned away from cancer treatment trials, polluters who were left to foul the air and water, the miners who died from lack of Mine Safety and Health Administration enforcement.  They will think of the homebuyers who couldn’t apply for mortgages, the soldiers who had to make do until weapons were repaired and delivered.

“The economic and social costs of shutting down vital government services for weeks will be felt for months and possibly years.  Backlogs will eventually be processed, and federal workers’ savings will slowly be restored.  But the taint of this outrageous effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act will likely affect government service for a long time,” he predicted.

Cox also asked voters to remember who – the Tea Party – was responsible for the chaos.  After thanking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for holding firm against “a radical group of hostage takers,” Cox said that “those who perpetrated this inexcusable catastrophe on the American people should be turned out of office in 2014.”

Cox also vowed his union and its members “are nobody’s bargaining chip” and will not be scapegoats or asked to shoulder even more cuts.  The federal workers have already endured 11 days of furloughs due to “sequestration” – Washingtonese for GOP-imposed budget cuts – and a 3-year pay freeze.

“Our message to lawmakers is clear: No more cuts, no more furloughs, no more sacrifices on the backs of hardworking Americans.  We will also fight to protect Social Security and Medicare benefits from any reductions, including cuts from the so-called chained CPI,” Cox stated.  Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry agreed.

“While the deal announced today is a short-term fix to a crisis manufactured by the far Right Wing of the Republican Party, it should not be the end of the debate over our fiscal priorities,” Henry said.  “Devastating cuts under the sequester remain in effect and Congress in the coming months should restore funding to vital services that millions of Americans depend on and make new investments to get our economy moving again.

“Fortunately, today’s deal does not significantly impact the Affordable Care Act,” Henry added.  Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “Democrats and reasonable Republicans deserve credit for not allowing far right extremists to undercut a law that will expand healthcare coverage to millions of Americans,” Henry declared.

The Food and Commercial Workers reported the Bestway grocery in Falls Church, Va., used the shutdown as an excuse to fire 30 workers after a majority of  Bestway employees signed union representation election authorization cards in September.  Bestway broke labor law, UFCW Local 400 said, knowing full well that a shuttered National Labor Relations Board was powerless to press charges.

“Bestway ignored the workers’ requests to recognize their union and set bargaining dates.  Instead, the company engaged in systematic illegal retaliation against union supporters by cutting hours, changing schedules, holding 1-on-1 interrogation meetings, and threatening to call immigration on the workers, among other scare tactics. When the workers staged a 1-hour work-stoppage last week to draw attention to their plight, Bestway retaliated against its staff” with the firings, Local 400 added.

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard also vowed voters would remember next November.

“For the past two weeks, the American people watched helplessly as the extreme Right-Wing Tea Party Republicans hijacked government and turned the Capitol into a circus,” he said.  “We are thankful that this unnecessary government shutdown is now over, but in the end, it was nothing more than a colossal waste of time and money — some $24 billion according to Standard & Poor’s — by people who should know better.

“This shameless group of Republicans took it upon themselves to attempt to overturn the results of our democratic process…We know this shutdown and the threat of default left hundreds of thousands of working Americans wondering how they would pay their bills, and left millions of others to wonder whether their government would be there when they needed it.  The American people deserve better.

“Our leaders must remember elections have consequences…For a small minority of elected officials to attempt to nullify the results” of last year’s election “by holding the entire government and the world economy hostage is not only irresponsible, it is reprehensible.

“When we return to the voting booth next year to elect a new Congress, we must not forget the actions we have seen in recent weeks, nor the harm that these representatives have inflicted upon this country in their shortsighted, selfish efforts to impose their extreme ideology on all of us.”

The end came near 5 p.m. on Oct. 16, after Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., announced the deal at noon.  House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, threw in the towel, saying he would not prevent a vote on it there, despite the outraged howls of his Tea Party wing.  Boehner vowed to keep fighting to kill the Affordable Care Act.