New York—Hundreds of National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) members rallied today in New York’s Federal Plaza to call for an end to sequestration and to protest unpaid furlough days for Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees and a planned shutdown of IRS services to the public.
“Sequestration is undercutting the ability of IRS employees to provide the help the public wants and needs,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley told the boisterous crowd—emphasizing that sequestration cuts to the IRS alone will increase the deficit by $4 billion annually.
Along with hearing from President Kelley, the New York rally was addressed by Frank Heffler, president of NTEU Chapter 47, which hosted today’s rally and represents more than 1,200 IRS employees in Manhattan.
“We want to work,” Heffler said. “Unpaid furlough days are bad for employees and the country.”
In an unprecedented move, the IRS has announced that it will close all public services on five planned furlough days between May 24 and August 30, and possibly two additional days in August or September.
This will deprive taxpayers—no matter where they live—of help with their tax questions either by phone or in person, resulting in a significant loss of service to the public, President Kelley told the crowd. Additionally, no revenue will be collected on those days—a big hit for the country since the IRS collects 93 percent of U.S. revenue.
Even though the tax-filing deadline of April 15 has passed, Kelley said, “the reality is that tax help is provided by IRS employees year-around.” Among those who rely on the IRS are small businesses; people who file quarterly returns; those who file amended returns; taxpayers with hardship issues; and victims of identity theft—the IRS currently has some 650,000 active identity theft cases in which criminals seek fraudulent tax refunds.
“Victims of identity theft will have to wait even longer for their refunds because you can’t come to work to help,” she said. Instead, they will get a recording saying the IRS is closed for business. “I bet the tax cheats and tax evaders are dancing in the streets,” she said, adding that “providing tax help is a full-time job,” particularly as the tax code becomes increasingly complex.
The New York rally drew participants from the New York metropolitan area including NTEU chapters in New Jersey and Massachusetts, as well as representatives from NTEU chapters in Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Employees of CBP are facing up to 14 unpaid furlough days—the loss of nearly three weeks’ pay.
President Kelley noted that CBP collects more government revenue than any agency other than the IRS. “Do the math,” she said. “Furloughing your biggest revenue producers when you are trying to close the deficit is like shooting yourself in the foot.”
Federal employees are in the third year of a pay freeze while costs for health care, education, food and gas continue to rise. “Even as sequestration severely impacts agency budgets, unpaid furloughs in the wake of an ongoing pay freeze are making things very difficult for middle class federal employees,” President Kelley said.
Since fiscal 2011, IRS funding has been reduced by almost $1 billion as the result of a cut of $305 million for fiscal 2012 and cuts of nearly $600 million under sequestration.
President Kelley emphasized that with the pay freeze and increases in pension contributions from new federal hires, the federal workforce is contributing $114 billion to deficit reduction over 10 years.
“These furloughs must be stopped along with the ongoing attacks on federal employees,” she added.
Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established sequestration, federal agencies will undergo budget cuts of $102 billion a year for each of the next nine fiscal years. The total to be cut over that period, including fiscal 2013, is $1.2 trillion.
NTEU is the largest independent federal union, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.