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AFGE Announces Boldest Agenda Yet for Federal Workers

The union is pushing a two year sprint to change laws around the federal workforce

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 23, 2021

For the last four years, federal unions like AFGE were in a huge battle with Trump to protect basic benefits and protections. Some of the things that Trump went after included federal pensions, union time, and collective bargaining rights. However, the election of President Biden has brought new hope to the union.

Over the weekend AFGE, the largest federal union met to lay out its legislative agenda for 2021. On Monday, AFGE President Everett Kelley presented that agenda to the House Oversight Committee.

When Kelley met with the members over the weekend he stressed that it was imperative to get changes made immediately. Historically the party in power loses seats in a midterm election and with the Senate tied at 50-50 and Democrats holding a slim majority in the House, there is no guarantee that Congress will be supportive of workers' rights come 2023. With the need to get changes done quickly, AFGE is advocating for the swift passage of the FAIR Act. This bill would give federal workers a 3.2% pay raise for 2022 and restore COVID paid sick leave.

“For decades think tanks and contractors and academics have written lengthy reports about obstacles to federal hiring, but when the same job in the private sector pays 20 percent to 40 percent more, we lose candidates. There is no justification for underpaying federal employees and we will continue to press the case for higher pay across-the-board,” said Kelley at the hearing on Monday.

AFGE also wants Biden to restore collective bargaining and due process protections for all employees at the Veterans Affairs (VA) department. They also want workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to gain Title 5 protections which would give them full collective bargaining rights.

“It is outrageous that [transportation security officers] still don’t have full collective bargaining rights, worker protections under the [Fair Labor Standards Act] and the [Family and Medical Leave Act], fair pay and [Merit Systems Protections Board] appeal rights,” he said. “TSOs have worked heroically and at great risk during the pandemic, and they must have the same rights and protections as all federal employees. And we must fight to repeal the brutal retirement cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 that have so far cost our members $12 billion. It was uncalled for then, it’s uncalled for now, and it’s long past time to undo them.”

While President Biden has made some progress on extending collective bargaining rights to federal workers, like issuing an Executive Order directing departments to begin bargaining over non-mandatory subjects, the extension of collective bargaining rights needs to be done through an act of Congress.

AFGE is also calling on Biden and Congress to take steps to strengthen civil service protections and rebuild the federal workforce. Trump was perhaps the worst President for the federal government since the civil service was introduced. In the fall he issued an executive order that would allow federal workers involved in policy decisions to be hired or fired outside of the civil service regulations. This order was repealed by a Biden Executive Order. Trump also had numerous high-profile battles with career civil servants and deemed anyone in the government who was slowing down his agenda part of the “deep state.” Through his appointments and policies, he also hollowed out many agencies leaving them severely understaffed. This included agencies like OSHA, which lost almost 100 inspectors during Trump’s time in office.

“Weakening civil service protections and merit-based processes and procedures in the name of speed and ease is a terrible mistake,” Kelley said. “Hiring and firing federal employees requires deliberate rule-based steps for a good reason: to make sure that the federal workforce is hired and fired based solely on merit factors such as demonstrable skills and credentials.”

They also noted that Trump’s hollowing out of federal agencies has led to severe understaffing. One agency that they pointed to, the Bureau of Prisons had to institute mandatory overtime and administrative workers were tasked with doing Corrections officers work. Coupled with Biden’s push to end federal contracts with private prisons, the federal government will be facing an even greater need for federal workers.

While some of AFGE’s priorities will be able to be achieved by working with President Biden, others will need to be prioritized by Congress through the passage of new laws or funding. The union is hoping that with Democrats in control of the House and Senate this process will be expedited and major changes will be made before the next election.

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