Washington, D.C.—Hundreds of members of the nation’s largest independent union of federal employees rallied on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol today with a message for Congress: attacks on government workers and public services must be replaced with support for federal employees and their work.
The noon rally—a key part of the annual legislative conference of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU)—drew supportive appearances by several members of the House and Senate.
“You protect our borders and the nation’s agriculture. You safeguard our food supply and nuclear power plants. You feed hungry children and provide services to the elderly. You protect bank deposits and retirement investments,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley told the enthusiastic crowd on the West Front of the Capitol.
“Federal workers deserve support, and today we are here to demand that support,” Kelley said.
The federal workforce has already contributed more than $138 billion to budget savings, over the next 10 years. “Congress needs to stop looking to federal workers and our families to fund budget shortfalls,” Kelley said.
She added: “Today, we are here to tell Congress to fund our agencies so we can continue to serve the public. Our economy is recovering, but many in this country are still hurting. This is no time to cut back on critical services to Americans.”
Among the worst of those cuts has been a reduction of nearly $1 billion in the budget of the Internal Revenue Service in recent years, resulting in the loss of some 10,000 employees, and making it much more difficult for taxpayers to understand and comply with their tax obligations.
The NTEU members, representing 31 federal agencies, are in the second day of the three-day legislative conference which, in addition to today’s rally, features face-to-face meetings with members of the House and Senate regarding NTEU’s priority legislative issues for this year.
These include securing a fair and appropriate pay raise for federal workers; an end to sequestration; avoiding changes adversely impacting the federal health insurance program; securing a further cut in the private contractor reimbursement cap; and a halt to attacks on federal pensions that result in higher employee contributions with no increase in annuity, effectively resulting in a pay cut.
President Kelley applauded the crowd for their continued fight against the damaging policy of sequestration; for the fight against a government shutdown and for subsequent retroactive pay; as well as their continuing efforts against non-stop attacks on federal pay and retirement.
In return, they cheered loudly in the cold weather as she said “As long as some in Congress continue to do harm to federal workers, go after our pay and retirement, cut our agencies’ budgets and resist cuts to contractors, we will keep fighting.”
NTEU’s message to Congress about the federal workforce is clear, Kelley said: They work for US!
“Our union is a union of dedicated public servants who make this country a better place, and I know I speak for all of the members of Congress who spoke today when I say I am proud to stand with you and to fight with you,” the NTEU leader said.
She was joined in addressing the crowd by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), each of whom continues to be a staunch supporter of the federal workforce.
In support of the call for higher pay for federal employees, Rep. Hoyer said “Fair is fair—and competitive” with the private sector. “You are making America better every day,” he told the rally, despite difficulties posed by budget cuts. “You carry out what we in Congress want to have done, but without resources.”
Sen. Cardin drew cheers when he said “I stand with NTEU.” In calling for strengthened benefits and a reasonable pay raise, he added: “You are being asked to do more with less—and enough is enough.”
Both Rep. Sarbanes and Rep. Connolly emphasized their continuing respect for the work of federal employees. Rep. Sarbanes noted that such key activities as providing homeland security and regulating the financial industry cannot happen without dedicated federal employees and adequate budgets. “We need to put money behind the workers who make it happen,” he said.
Rep. Connolly applauded the continuing commitment of federal employees; emphasized that as a member of Congress, he, too, is a federal worker; and pointedly added: “It is about time Congress stopped using federal employees as a punching bag.”
As the largest independent federal union, NTEU represents 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.