Washington, D.C.—Hundreds of National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) members from around the country gathered in Washington today with the goal over the next three days of impressing upon their elected representatives the devastating effects sequestration would have not only on the federal workforce, but on the public it serves.
“Over the three days of our 2013 Legislative Conference, our members will take the message directly to their senators and representatives that sequestration must be avoided for the good of the country,” said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley. “Taxpayers will suffer and federal employees, their families and their communities will suffer.”
President Kelley was joined at the opening session of NTEU’s 30th legislative conference by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) who said she, too, is “frustrated by the inability of Congress to act responsibly.”
The senator said it was necessary to look only at the decline in U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter of 2012 to see the close connection between government spending and the vitality of the private sector. “People don’t have an understanding of what cutting federal spending does to the private economy,” she told the conference.
And taking note of the $103 billion that federal workers already have contributed to deficit reduction and economic recovery, Sen. Shaheen said “people want to do what’s right for the country—they just want to see that it’s fair.”
President Kelley, who has been a leader in calling for Congress to avoid sequestration, minced no words in her opening remarks to conference attendees warning about its effects.
It is a threat, she said, “that could result in more terrorists stalking our streets; more illegal weapons and drugs entering our communities; more dangerous and harmful food making it onto our dinner tables and into our kids’ lunches; hundreds of thousands of needy children going to bed hungry; scores of mentally ill adults and children going without the treatment they need; and much more.”
The conference has drawn NTEU chapter members not only from around the country but from agencies throughout the government.
President Kelley used her remarks at the opening session to underscore the realities of union membership. “It takes both courage and persistence to be a union leader and a union member,” she said.
But that is necessary, she said, in the face of continuing challenges for the federal workforce, including sequestration—scheduled to take effect on March 1.
While the immediate focus is on sequestration, the conference attendees will highlight other NTEU legislative priorities for the current Congress. Those issues include:
• Stopping sequestration
• Preventing a government shutdown and providing adequate agency funding
• Ending the pay freeze and getting back to fair pay increases
• Protecting federal retirement benefits against attacks
• Finding savings by limiting contracting out and increasing insourcing
• Protecting federal health benefits and bringing down premium costs
Kelley noted that recently Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers may have to take 14 furlough days—nearly three weeks off without pay.
“These are the men and women who protect our borders,” Kelley said. “This is the thanks they get—forcing them to take a significant pay cut through furloughs?”
Returning to her theme of courage and persistence, Kelley reminded her members that NTEU was begun by a group of Internal Revenue Service employees who fought a 14-year battle in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s to achieve civil service protection.
This year marks NTEU’s 75th anniversary, she said, calling on NTEU members to keep making sure their voices are heard because the threats to their well-being “will continue until the majority of members of Congress and people in our country understand and value the contributions of federal employees.”
As the largest independent federal union, NTEU represents 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.