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The longest shutdown in U.S. history will have lingering consequences for federal workers

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Though President Donald Trump and Congress finally brokered a deal to end the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, members of the federal workforce are still left dealing with the financial pain it caused.

The partial shutdown stretched on for 35 days, depriving government employees of two paychecks. Although President Donald Trump said on Friday that federal workers will receive back pay “as soon as possible,” about 800,000 workers — many of whom have had to take out loans and find part-time work — will have to wait late into next week to receive their pay. Contract workers aren’t eligible for back pay at all.

Randy Erwin, the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said in a statement that the record-breaking shutdown “caused irreparable harm to working families across the country,” calling it a “shameful chapter in American history.”

“Federal workers and others have resorted to selling their possessions, and many have defaulted on loans and mortgages in order to afford heat, medicine, and food,” Erwin said.

The 35-day partial government shutdown exposed the reality that many Americans are living in financially precarious situations.

Seventy-eight percent of full-time workers say they live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder report. And 40 percent of adults say they would struggle to take on an unexpected $400 expense, reporting they would be forced to sell their belongings, borrow money, or forgo paying the bill at all, a 2017 Federal Reserve report found.

The people who make up the federal workforce often face specific financial constraints.

Federal worker salaries on average fall behind the salaries of their private sector counterparts by 31.86 percent, according to a 2018 Federal Salary Council report. In an executive order issued in December, Trump said pay rates for federal civilian employees would remain stagnant in 2019, claiming that approving a pay raise for federal workers would be “inappropriate” given the financial challenges facing the government.

The federal contractors who won’t receive back pay to compensate them for their missed hours of work are particularly vulnerable. Some estimates find that 40 percent of the entire government workforce is made up of contract workers, totaling 3.7 million people.

“I think [contractors] get lost by the wayside in the concentration on the 800,000 people who are direct employees of the federal government,” said Ken, a contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration who is based in New Jersey, during a Wednesday protest against the shutdown at the Hart Senate Building. 

Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) — along with Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) — introduced legislation earlier this month that would require federal agencies to work with contractors’ companies to secure back pay for those workers.

While the government was partially shuttered, unpaid workers still needed to figure out what to do about their bills. This month, unpaid federal workers owed about $438 million in mortgage and rent payments — which breaks down to $189 million in rent payments and $249 in mortgage payments — according to a report from the real-estate firm Zillow.

Federal workers told ThinkProgress that the shutdown forced them to take out loans, file for unemployment, take on part-time work, and even consider leaving town. Some of the choices they made over the past month may have lasting financial repercussions.

Patricia Floyd-Hicks, a furloughed worker for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who attended Wednesday’s protest at the Hart Senate Building, told ThinkProgress that she had to dip into her savings as she prepares to retire.

Federal workers also worry that the shutdown could damage their credit scores, since workers only need to miss one credit card payment to have points taken off their credit score. Credit-scoring experts told CBSNews that it isn’t easy for a company like FICO to adjust its model in response to an event like the shutdown.

Although the government has reopened for at least the next three weeks, it’s unclear what will happen once lawmakers reach the February 15 deadline for the short-term spending bills that passed Friday. The uncertainty and financial instability is too much for some employees.

Several federal workers told ThinkProgress they are seriously considering whether they should leave the federal government altogether. According to research from the employment-related search engine Indeed, they fit into a bigger trend, as furloughed workers have been searching for jobs at an increased rate during the shutdown.

Indeed’s director of economic research, Martha Gimbel, compared job searches on the Indeed platform among employees in agencies across the government. She found that TSA workers’ job searches were up about 30 percent compared to the same time last year, while IRS workers’ job searches rose about 50 percent. Department of Health and Human Services workers’ searches were up 80 percent over this period last January.

The government watchdog group National Taxpayer Advocate estimates it will take about a year for the IRS’ operations to return to normal, according to the Washington Post — and one of the reasons for the delay, the group says, is that many of the agency’s workers have already decided to leave for the private sector.

Financial struggles can affect people’s mental health in serious ways, as research has shown. University of Southampton researchers published a 2013 report finding a significant relationship between debt and mental disorder, including depression. Findings from a 2016 study on U.S. households “suggest that short-term debt may have an adverse influence on psychological wellbeing.”

Many federal workers have now experienced this strain firsthand. When President Donald Trump threatened to keep the government partially shut down for months or even years, Jordan — who works for the U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development, and who asked to withhold their full name and gender out of fear of retaliation for speaking to the press — said the “real shock” of hearing this remark “led me to some crazy thoughts.”

“There is a bit of fear that raged through my body,” Jordan said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Federal Employees Are Suing the Trump Administration for Forcing Them to Work for Free

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Workers are suing the Trump administration, arguing that it’s illegal to compel federal employees to work with no pay. Filed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the lawsuit comes amid calls for federal workers to go on strike or stage a sick-out as the government shutdown enters its fifth week.

On December 31, the AFGE sued the Trump administration for denying pay to federal workers during the partial government shutdown, alleging that the action was a clear violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the 1938 law that created the right to a minimum wage and overtime pay. On January 9, the union filed an amended complaint in the lawsuit, charging that the government is in violation of minimum wage laws. 

Nearly half a million federal employees deemed “essential” have been ordered to continue working despite the fact that they do not know when they will ultimately be paid for their hours.

Heidi Burakiewicz, an attorney representing the plaintiffs as part of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, told In These Times that the amended complaint was initiated over the fact that 420,000 federal employees had gone a full two weeks without a paycheck by mid-January, which is a violation of minimum wage laws.

Burakiewicz says the plaintiffs are seeking back pay, plus liquidated damages to compensate for the financial decisions they’ve been forced to make during the shutdown. “People are running up late payment penalties and interest charges,” said Burakiewicz. “There’s so many people who live paycheck to paycheck, and we’ve heard about so many incredibly heartbreaking situations.”

Although there are just two plaintiffs so far, AFGE is setting up an electronic sign-up system for other workers to join the lawsuit, and Burakiewicz estimates that she’s already received about 7,000 emails from people inquiring about how to become part of it.

This isn’t the first time Burakiewicz has sued the federal government. After the 2013 government shutdown, Burakiewicz represented 25,000 essential federal employees who filed a lawsuit on similar grounds. The government tried to get the case dismissed by arguing that federal law prevented them from spending any money that had not been allocated by Congress.

A judge with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims disagreed with the government’s assessment and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2014. In 2017, the court determined that the workers were actually entitled to double their back pay. Despite the victory, the workers are still waiting to receive their compensation.

Burakiewicz says that one of the reasons the litigation has been so slow is because the lawsuit was unprecedented and there were a number of legal issues that had to be ironed out. Since this terrain has now been covered, she thinks that this second lawsuit will proceed much quicker—and that it will be much easier to calculate damages for the workers.

As the shutdown continues, some are calling for strikes and work stoppages. On January 14, Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Stevenson called on Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers to go on a strike in a New York Times op-ed. “The moral foundation for a strike is unquestionably firm,” reads the piece. “The federal government has broken its contract with its employees—locking some of them out of their workplaces and expecting others to work for the mere promise of eventual pay.”

Federal employees are legally prevented from going on strike, and in 1981 Ronald Reagan infamously fired almost 13,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) for participating in one. Many credit Reagan with dealing organized labor a blow that it has never entirely recovered from, as the private sector began imitating Reagan’s move and began replacing striking workers rather than negotiating with them.

However, there are signs that workers today are bringing the strike back. The year 2018 saw waves of teachers’ strikes and work stoppages that rocked a number of GOP-controlled states. All of these actions were led by the rank and file, and in many cases the teachers pushed the leadership of their unions towards more radical demands. Teachers’ strikes are illegal in West Virginia, yet that didn’t stop them from walking out nor did it impact their success.

In Slate, Henry Grabar spoke with historian Joseph McCartin about the many reasons that TSA workers shouldn’t fear the specter of PATCO if they end up striking. Reagan was popular during the time of the strike, while Trump’s approval rating continues to dip, and there probably isn’t a trained replacement workforce that could easily be implemented like there was in 1981. Additionally, there are tens of thousands more TSA employees than there were air-traffic controllers, and air travel is a much bigger part of the country’s economy, which would increase the potential leverage that a work stoppage could generate.

McCartin, who wrote the definitive book on the PATCO strike, published a piece in The American Prospect on January 14 calling on TSA workers to participate in a spontaneous sickout that would force the government to act. McCartin doesn’t believe that such an action would need to be nationwide to have an immediate impact. “This partial shutdown can continue only as long as hundreds of thousands of federal workers cooperate with it by working without pay, and often having to do more because many of their colleagues have been furloughed,” writes McMartin.

In addition to the AFGE lawsuit, the National Treasury Employees Union sued the govermnent in an attempt to excuse federal employees from working. On January 15, a Washington, D.C. judge ruled that government employees are still legally obligated to go to work even if they aren’t being paid.

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

"So Bad I Had to Quit": Understanding Constructive Discharge

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

When is a resignation not considered a voluntary act?  When it is unlawfully coerced or the only escape from an intolerably hostile work environment?

A finding of “constructive discharge” is essentially the same as wrongful termination. The person technically quit but for all practical purposes they were pushed out. Federal employees alleging constructive discharge have a very short window to bring such a complaint.

What is constructive discharge?

Constructive discharge means that an employee, rather than being terminated, was forced to resign because of deception, coercion and/or unbearable treatment by the employer. In other words:

  • I quit because they lied to me about what would happen if I stayed.
  • I quit because they threatened to ruin me.
  • They made my job a living hell. I had no choice but to quit.

When an employee voluntarily leaves a job, they are typically not entitled to unemployment benefits. They are no longer entitled to due process through their employer. And they forfeit the right to sue for wrongful discharge. So it is in the employer’s interests to “encourage” employees to quit and characterize the exit as voluntary.

Involuntary resignation is not always constructive discharge

Quitting because of subjective feelings of “unfair” treatment is not grounds for a constructive termination lawsuit. Nor is quitting rather than face disciplinary proceedings or “I quit before they could fire me.”

In general, constructive discharge must meet one of these scenarios:

  • Hostile environment — The employee was subjected to retaliation, harassment or discriminatory conduct that created a hostile work environment so intolerable that a reasonable person would not be able to stay.
  • Coercion — The employer made misrepresentations or threats of adverse employment actions that the employee relied upon as a forced resignation.

You don’t have to prove that management conspired to make you quit, only that their actions or deceptions led you to believe you had no alternative.

Government workers must claim constructive discharge within 45 days

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2016 (Green v. Brennan) clarified that the clock starts from the date of your resignation, not from the date of the manipulative or abusive conduct. For federal employees, that means you have just 45 days from your separation (the day you gave your resignation) to initiate a constructive discharge claim through the EEOC or the MSPB.

Where the complaint is filed depends on the underlying nature of the mistreatment, such as Title VII discrimination or whistleblower retaliation.

Don’t be too quick to quit your job

It is difficult to “undo” a resignation. If you storm out, dramatically shouting “I quit!” that is as legally binding as resigning in a formal letter. In general, it is harder to land new a job if you have already left gainful employment – you will have to explain the employment gap or explain why you left. Don’t do anything rash without getting legal advice.

In a perfect world, you should remain on the job and exhaust all of your due process rights, including filing a formal complaint of harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Obviously, if it gets so bad that your physical and mental health are jeopardized, you may conclude you can longer go back to work. Hopefully by then you have reported and documented the mistreatment, reprisal or inadequate response. Ideally, you will have another job lined up before leaving.

This blog was originally published by The Attorneys of Passman & Kaplan on January 8, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

Federal workers protest against government shutdown across the country

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

As the partial government shutdown stretches into its third week — making it the second longest shutdown in U.S. history — federal workers in Philadelphia took to the streets Tuesday to protest the White House and congressional inaction that has left them without work and pay for 18 days.

About 150 workers from various government agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, joined the rally organized by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), with the support of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). Organizers called for an end to the shutdown that began late last month over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nearly 800,000 federal workers across the country have been affected by the shutdown.

“It is unconscionable that many employees are having to work – and in some cases overtime – with no pay whatsoever,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a press release Monday. Reardon’s organization filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration Monday, alleging that the shutdown violates the Fair Labor Standards Act by requiring federal employees to work without pay.

“Many of us used our credit cards to pay for Christmas and now we’re being hit with high interest rates on that. So, it’s really overwhelming,” Jan Nation, a protester who works for the EPA, told NBC Philadelphia Tuesday. “We don’t want a wall, we want to do our jobs.”

Philadelphia rally organizers also plan to travel to Washington, D.C. on Thursday for a second protest outside the AFL-CIO headquarters. Several hundred workers from multiple unions are expected to attend Thursday’s protest, which will be followed by a march to the White House.

Federal workers in St. Louis and Boston have also organized or plan to hold rallies in opposition to the government shutdown, despite Trump’s comments to reporters last week that federal workers “agree 100 percent with what I’m doing.”

In St. Louis, which is home to a U.S. Department of Agriculture office that employs 1,200 federal workers, a small contingent of USDA employees spent much of last Friday and Monday rallying outside their offices.

“We’re just tired of being held hostage,” Don Pusczek, a USDA accountant, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Friday. “The longer it lasts, the more the bills pile up and don’t get paid.”

Federal workers in Boston also plan to hold an AFGE-organized rally Friday outside the offices of the Environmental Protection Agency in the city’s Post Office Square.

“Federal employees want to go back to work. They believe in their mission and want to provide quality services to the American people,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement Monday. “These are real people, with real lives and real responsibilities. It’s time to end this shutdown, open the government, and get federal employees back on the job — with pay.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

News from the Courts: Executive Orders Partially Struck Down

Friday, September 7th, 2018

News from the Courts: On August 25, 2018, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a 122-page memorandum opinion in American Federation of Government Employees et al. v. Trump, No. 1:18-cv-1261. The Court struck down significant portions of the three May 25, 2018 executive orders concerning federal employees.

As previously analyzed in this blog, Executive Orders 13,837-13,839 announced a number of new policies relating to federal employees, both as to the rights of individual employees and the rights of federal sector unions who represent federal employees. After the executive orders were issued, a number of federal sector unions all sued to block implementation; their various lawsuits were then consolidated into the single lawsuit in front of Judge Jackson, which then proceeded to expedited cross-motions for summary judgment. The unions focused their attack on provisions chiefly dealing with the union issues; certain other provisions whose effect was not limited to unions were not included in the lawsuit.

Judge Jackson ultimately found that a number of provisions in the three executive orders violated federal statutes governing collective bargaining, chiefly by pre-deciding major issues which Congress had intended to be decided between unions and agencies through bargaining. Included in the list of provisions which the court struck down were restrictions on the amount of official time and the availability of below-market office space to unions. Concerning individual employees, the court also struck down Section 4c of Executive Order 13,839, which limited Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) periods to 30 days unless the agency in its sole discretion opted for a longer period.

However, several other provisions which impact federal employees remain in effect. Section 5 of Executive Order 13,839, which limits the ability to modify disciplinary or performance records in settlement, was not challenged in the lawsuit and fell outside the scope of Judge Jackson’s Memorandum Order. Sections 2f-2g of Executive Order 13,839, which set time limits for processing of disciplinary actions, also fell outside the scope of the lawsuit. These provisions potentially remain on the books, although outstanding issues remain open (for example, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has not yet completed its review of the need for possible implementing regulations).

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on September 4, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness. The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

Five Groups of Americans Who’ll Get Shafted Under Trump’s Hiring Freeze

Monday, January 30th, 2017

RichardEskowDonald Trump, in what’s been hyped as an “unprecedented” move, has instituted a freeze on the hiring of federal employees. Hyperbole aside (it’s hardly unprecedented, since Ronald Reagan did the same thing on his first day in office), one thing is already clear: this will hurt a lot of people.

Trump’s order exempts military personnel, along with any position that a department or agency head “deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” That offers a fair degree of latitude when it comes to filling positions in certain areas.

But Trump’s appointees aren’t likely to ask for “national security or public safety” exemptions for the many government jobs that help people in ways Republicans despise. So who stands to lose the most under this hiring freeze?

1. Social Security Recipients

Trump and his advisors seem to have had Social Security in mind when they included this language:

“This hiring freeze applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding …” (Emphasis mine.)

While there may be other reasons for this verbiage, it effectively targets Social Security, which is entirely self-funded through the contributions of working Americans and their employers.

Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit. It has very low administrative overhead and is remarkably cost-efficient when compared to pension programs in the private sector.

That hasn’t prevented Republicans in Congress from taking a meat cleaver to Social Security’s administrative budget. That has led to increased delays in processing disability applications, longer travel times for recipients as more offices are closed, and longer wait times on the phone and in person.

Social Security pays benefits to retired Americans, disabled Americans, veterans, and children – all of whom will be hurt by these cuts.

2. Working People

The Department of Labor, especially the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), ensures that working Americans are safe on the job. It’s a huge task: Nearly 2.9 million Americans were injured on the job in 2015, according to OSHA data, and another 145,000 experienced a work-related illness. 4,836 people died from work-related injuries in 2016. (These numbers count only reported injuries, illnesses, and deaths; not all are reported.)

OSHA’s employees study injury and illness patterns, communicate safety practices and rules, and inspect workplaces to make sure that the rules are being followed. This hiring freeze will lead to fewer such studies, communications, and inspections. That means working Americans will pay a price — in injury, illness, and death.

3. Veterans

Some 500,000 veterans have waited more than a month to receive medical care from the Veterans Administration. Nevertheless, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer confirmed that Trump’s hiring freeze will affect thousands of open positions at the VA, including positions for doctors and nurses. The nation’s veterans will pay for this freeze, in prolonged illness, injury, and pain – or worse.

Vets will pay in another way, too. Vets make up roughly one-third of the federal workforce, which means they will be disproportionately harmed by this hiring freeze. So will women and minorities, both of whom have a significant presence among federal workers – greater than in the workforce as a whole.

4. Small Businesses and Workers All Across the Country

Contrary to what many people believe, federal employees are work in offices all across the country. The goods and services purchased by each federal worker provide jobs and growth for their local economies. Cuts in the federal workforce will therefore cause economic damage all of the states where federal jobs are located.

According to the latest report on the subject from the Office of Management and Budget, states with the largest numbers of Federal employees are: California, with 150,000 jobs; Virginia, with 143,000 jobs; Washington DC, with 133,000 jobs; and, Texas, with 130,000 jobs.

That’s right: Texas.

Other states with large numbers of Federal employees include Maryland, Florida, and Georgia.

Demand for goods and services will fall with the federal workforce. So will demand for workers, which means that wages will rise more slowly (if at all). This hiring freeze will affect small businesses and working people in states like Texas and all across the country.

5. Everybody Else.

The “public safety” argument could also be used to exempt employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from the hiring freeze. But Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, a longtime foe of environmental regulation who has sided with some genuinely noxious polluters, to run the EPA.

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times. “In 13 of those cases,” the New York Times reports, “the co-parties included companies that had contributed money to Mr. Pruitt or to Pruitt-affiliated political campaign committees.”

In other words, Pruitt is dirty. It’s unlikely he’ll seek a “public safety” exemption for the inspectors that identify industrial polluters and bring them to justice. So another group that will suffer under this freeze, without getting too cute about it, is pretty much anybody who drinks water or breathes air. That covers just about everybody.

And that’s just the beginning.

This is not an all-inclusive list. We’ve left out tourists, for example, who’ll pay the price for staffing cuts at the nation’s monuments and national parks. But the overall impact of Trump’s hiring freeze is clear: it shows a reckless disregard for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people.

(And that’s not even counting his plan to end the Affordable Care Act. Physicians Steffie Woolhandler and David Emmelstein estimate that this will result in 43,000 deaths every year. And they’re not Democratic partisans or ACA apologists; they’ve been fighting for single-payer healthcare for years.)

Given these implications – and the thousands of jobs affected at the VA alone – it was surprising to read, in Politico, that “Trump’s move, by itself, doesn’t actually do much.”

That’s true, in one way. The 10,000 to 20,000 jobs affected by this freeze pale in comparison to the federal government’s total workforce of 2.2 million.

But Trump’s just getting started. His memo instructs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a broader long-term plan for reducing the federal workforce through attrition. And Trump’s choice for that job, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, is a far-right Republican who’s been fighting to cut the federal government for years.

This freeze is a bad idea, but there will be more where this came from.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on January 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

This week in the war on workers: Federal job levels are low but Trump wants to drive them lower

Monday, January 16th, 2017

 

 

Donald Trump says he’s all about jobs, but at the same time he wants a federal hiring freeze. Supposedly there are just too many federal workers and the government should save money by getting rid of them. Here’s the reality:

  • There were an average of 2.8 million federal employees in 2016, representing only 1.9 percent of the nation’s 144 million civilian[2] jobs. This share ties with 2015 for the lowest federal share ever recorded, with data going back to 1939, and it’s far below its post-World War II average of 3.3 percent. (See Figure 1.)
  • The number of federal jobs rose by just 18,000 (0.6 percent) over the last eight years; in contrast, the number of jobs in the country grew by 11.3 million (8.3 percent) during the same period.[3]
  • The number of federal jobs as a share of the nation’s population in 2016 was tied with 2014 and 2015 for its lowest share on record.

Not to mention, these federal jobs include little things like the Centers for Disease Control, Medicare, national parks, food inspection, and other services and protections that many of us kinda like. “Freeze federal hiring” is something that sounds good to some people if you strip it of the specifics so they don’t think about what exactly is being cut. If Trump followed through with the kind of big cuts he’s implying, chances are it would not be a popular move.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

New House rules allow Congress to slash the pay of individual federal workers

Friday, January 6th, 2017

The Republican House majority proposed and passed a rules package on the eve of the GOP seizing control of the House, Senate, and the White House, and it contains more than a few surprises.

Republicans received widespread constituent outrage in response to a proposal to gut an independent congressional ethics office and bring it under the thumb of lawmakers, and they rolled it back in response. But the rules package contained other significant changes , including rules expanding Congress’ power to haul private citizens to Capitol Hill for testimony, and the revival of an obscure rule that would allow Congress to individually target and slash the pay of government workers and programs.

The Holman rule, named after the congressman who first proposed it in 1876, was nixed by Congress in 1983. The rule, now reinstated for 2017, gives any lawmaker the power to offer amendments to appropriations bills that could, legislatively, fire any federal employee or cut their pay down to $1 dollar, if the lawmaker so chooses.

Congress has always had the “power of the purse”: through the appropriations process, the legislative body can broadly cut the budget of any government agency. This Holman rule, however, allows lawmakers to exercise this power with laser focus and to target individual civil servants. A majority of the House and Senate would have to approve any such amendment.

Terminations or pay cuts passed through the Holman rule would override any civil service or other employment protections. Union leaders are particularly concerned with how the law might impact employees covered under collective bargaining.

“The jobs and paychecks of career federal workers should not be subject to the whims of elected politicians,” said the National President of American Federation of Government Employees, J. David Cox Sr., in a statement. “The Holman Rule will not only harm our hardworking federal workforce, but jeopardize the critical governmental services upon which the American people rely.”

The rule would allow Congress to target civil servants for political or ideological reasons. Lawmakers could, for example, specifically target civil servants who work on or speak publicly about climate change, or they could vote to drastically reduce the salary of IRS executives responsible for scrutinizing conservative groups.

The rule is particularly concerning coming only a few weeks after the Trump transition team asked the Energy Department for a list of scientists who have worked on climate change, and for the State Department to submit details of programs and jobs aimed at promoting gender equality.

The Trump transition team said that the survey sent to the Energy Department, which asked for a list of individual researchers by name, was “not authorized.” In a statement about the request to the State Department, the transition team issued a statement saying that the inquiry was to help President-elect Trump “ensure the rights of women across the world are valued and protected.”

Democrats, who voted against the rule package as a block just as Republicans voted for it, railed against the change.

“This rules package provides [the Congressional Majority] with the surgical tools necessary to reach into the inner workings of the federal government and cut away each part and employee that runs afoul of their ideological agenda,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), whose northern Virginia district is heavily populated with government workers.

“It undermines civil service protections; it goes back to the nineteenth century,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in a floor speech on Tuesday. “Republicans have consistently made our hardworking federal employees scapegoats, in my opinion, for lack of performance of the federal government itself, and this rule change will enable them to make short-sighted and ideologically driven changes to our nation’s civil service.”

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) offered the bill. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said he considered it unlikely, but not impossible, that lawmakers might use the power of the bill to cut huge swaths of government workers.

“I can’t tell you it won’t happen,” he told the Post. “The power is there. But isn’t that appropriate? Who runs this country, the people of the United States or the people on the people’s payroll?”

Even if lawmaker don’t use the new provision, its revival sends a clear message to federal employees that their livelihood is now subject to the whims of elected officials. That alone could have a chilling effect on the civil service and on work that runs counter to the Republican ideological agenda.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on January 5, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laurel Raymond is a General Reporter at ThinkProgress. Contact her: lraymond@thinkprogress.org

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