Washington, D.C.—The heart of a stronger America is a strong, vibrant and vocal federal workforce, the leader of the nation’s largest independent union of federal employees told a large group of her union’s members today.
“When you strip away all the hyperbole you hear on the evening news, in Congress and on the campaign trail, it is all of you, your co-workers and colleagues, who are working for a stronger America, who are building up communities, protecting our resources and safeguarding our American way of life,” said President Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).
The NTEU leader used her opening remarks at the union’s annual legislative conference—“NTEU: Working for a Stronger America”—to stress that the most effective way to counter the relentless attacks on the federal workforce is for federal employees to take the message to the public that they are dedicated to the effective service of their nation.
She was joined in addressing participants at the opening session of the three-day conference by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a staunch supporter not only of federal employees, but of all working Americans. He strongly encouraged the NTEU members to “tell your story on Capitol Hill (and) explain to the American people” the work federal employees perform.
“The story is what you do for the middle class and how you make life better for everyone in our country,” Sen. Brown said. Referring to the multiple anti-federal workers bills in Congress, he said “an assault on you is an assault on the middle class. So keep singing that tune, keep up your activism.”
Kelley reviewed some of the pending legislation, including measures targeting their pensions. “I am appalled,” she said, “that some in this Congress would vote to break pension promises made to federal workers years ago, just as many become eligible for them.”
She took note of the fact that federal employees already are making a $60 billion contribution to deficit reduction efforts through a two-year pay freeze, and beginning in 2013, another $15 billion contribution from higher pension contributions made by newly-hired workers.
President Kelley made a particular point of the willingness of some in Congress to continue seeking to slash federal pay and benefits while adamantly refusing to ask the wealthiest Americans or corporations that ship jobs oversees to contribute “one additional cent” to deficit reduction.
The NTEU leader noted that even as the event began, federal employees around the nation were working to provide school children with healthy meals; striving to ensure that bank depositors can continue to believe in the safety and soundness of the nation’s banking system; endeavoring to inspect sites involved in the processing of food imported into the U.S.; working tirelessly to protect our nation’s borders; and much more.
“I proudly add that all of these employees mentioned are NTEU members, doing phenomenal jobs in a very challenging environment,” Kelley said. “Federal employees are the ones working for a stronger America. We are the ones working to build this country up, to serve its people, to protect and safeguard their lives and their futures—all of you in this room.”
NTEU members are gathered from across the country and across federal agencies for the event, which will feature a rally at noon tomorrow on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, and sessions with representatives and senators on a number of legislative issues.
NTEU’s priority legislative issues for the current session of Congress include fighting proposals to reduce the federal workforce; federal pay and retirement issues; the pressing need for adequate Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staffing; and the fact the government should find alternative savings—such as contractor reimbursement caps and limits on federal health plan Pharmacy Benefit Managers— before turning to federal workers for more sacrifice.
In this election year, President Kelley reminded members of the importance of congressional races. “This is the beginning of a pivotal year for federal workers,” she said, “a year where we confront the political challenges before us and stand strong for what we believe in and our value to this country,” encouraging the members to channel their frustration into positive electoral actions.
As the nation’s largest independent union of federal employees, NTEU represents 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.