Largest Federal Union Says It’s Ready for President-Elect Trump

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

Dec. 7 — The largest federal workers union isn’t expecting anything from President-elect Donald Trump that the union—together with the federal workforce, its allies in Congress and the U.S. public—won’t be able to handle, according to the union’s president.

A proposal from the president-elect for a federal hiring freeze, with exceptions for positions that affect the military, public safety or public health, isn’t that different from those put forth by previous presidents, J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told reporters Dec. 7. For example, he said, President George W. Bush in January 2001 called for a temporary freeze on federal hiring.

A hiring freeze will be tough to implement, the AFGE president predicted. Other new presidents have reversed themselves or allowed freezes to lapse after hearing from the public about the impact on government operations, he said.

The AFGE may face a battle next year in protecting federal workers’ pay and benefits. But the union has been through the process of adjusting to Republican administrations before. The AFGE has seen many different political environments in Congress over the years, and has relied on its allies—both Democrats and Republicans—to protect the federal workforce, Cox said.

Federal workers also “are concerned” about their loss of earning power during the Obama administration, Cox said.

Federal pay is about 6.5 percent lower than it was when President Barack Obama was elected, factoring in inflation, Cox said. This is because of years of inadequate federal pay increases from the Obama administration that didn’t get bumped up by Congress, he said.

‘Unpredictability' Is Wild Card

What’s different this time, Cox said, is Trump’s “unpredictability” and lack of government experience.

“Running the government is not like running a private corporation,” Cox said.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence understands that there are “lots of checks and balances” in government and hopefully will provide that perspective, Cox said. But the union is wary of Pence’s voting record on federal employee issues during his 12 years in the U.S. House and his political record as governor of Indiana.

Even so, the AFGE expects “more nibbling than wholesale change” on federal labor relations issues next year with the new administration and the 115th Congress, Cox said.

There likely will be renewed interest in legislation to cut back on “official time”—paid time for federal employees who perform union representational work for bargaining units in lieu of their regularly assigned work.

Some in Congress also may seek to restrict federal employees from choosing automatic union dues deductions in their government paychecks, Cox said.

But these types of issues have received lots of attention in the past without changes to the laws governing federal labor relations, he said. “We’ve regularly seen these pieces of legislation introduced,” Cox said.

Increase in Union Membership

According to Cox, the AFGE saw a net gain of more than 1,200 members in November, bringing its membership to 309,180 as of Nov. 30.

The union needs about 5,000 new members each month “just to stay even,” he said.

Federal employees leave government, retire, or move to other agencies and don’t keep up their union membership, he said. This makes the increase in membership even more remarkable, Cox said.

The AFGE, which represents about 670,000 federal and District of Columbia government workers, announced on Oct. 26, 2015, that it had reached the 300,000-member mark. This means the union has gained a total of 9,180 dues-paying members since that time, or an average net gain of about 765 new members each month.

Agreement on Entitlements, Trade

The president-elect’s views aren’t all in opposition to those of unionized workers, Cox said.

For example, Trump bucked the Republican Party during the primaries by saying he “would not touch” Social Security and Medicare, Cox said. The union will ensure that the president-elect doesn’t renege on this pledge, Cox said.

Trump also vowed to revisit trade deals that have hurt U.S. workers, a stand that the AFGE, an AFL-CIO affiliate, supports.

“We are ready to applaud new and better trade deals,” Cox said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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