VA employees are under attack. After last year’s Commission on Care, it’s nothing new. But this time lawmakers are attacking AFGE from every angle. Union-busting legislation – like H.R. 1461 – is being voted on Capitol Hill. AFGE has been lifting up the voices of our members every step of the way, including an inspiring Congressional testimony from Local 390 President and VA nurse Shirley Blommel. The National VA Council has been meeting regularly, including holding court with VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin to ask him some tough one-on-one questions about the future of the VA.
The hiring freeze is having a profound effect on the four million visitors to the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia annually. The park had to close several buildings that would normally be open to visitors – the Franklin Printing Office, Thaddeus Kosciuszko House, the Declaration House, the Fragment Museum, New Hall Military Museum, the Todd House, and the Bishop White House – with other buildings having the days and hours reduced. But the largest issue is the public restrooms at 5th and Chestnut, which are also closed due to understaffing. This means there are no public restrooms for visitors on Independence Square for the entire summer. Those restrooms are used by thousands of visitors every day, but now they are closed.
Nearly 70 AFGE Department of Defense activists came to Washington the first week of April to meet with their lawmakers and senior Pentagon officials regarding issues affecting the 250,000 civilian employees AFGE represents. The annual policy forum, hosted by AFGE’s Defense Conference (DEFCON), gives local union leaders an exclusive opportunity to provide input on laws and policies being developed that will affect employees’ jobs, wages, and benefits. AFGE members will be advocating on behalf of DoD workers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Army Corps of Engineers, Air Force Materiel Command, Defense Contract Audit Agency, Defense Commissary Agency, Defense Contract Management Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Finance and Accounting Services, Defense Health Agency, and Defense Information Systems Agency.
Reports that the Trump administration wants to eliminate federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities has created “a lot of uncertainty” among employees, AFGE Local 3403 Vice President Talana Morton-Smith told Government Executive in February. “We have staff members who are new mothers, and some who are putting children through college. There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Morton-Smith added. A bipartisan group of 24 senators is urging President Trump to maintain funding for the two independent agencies, whose combined budgets accounted for less than one-thousandth of one percent of the federal budget in fiscal 2016.
If you’re facing workplace discrimination or harassment and are not satisfied with your employer’s response, your next line of defense is filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC receives about 100,000 new complaints annually, but because of years of staffing and funding shortfalls, the agency has found it increasingly difficult to assist victims with their cases. The agency has ONLY 2,202 full-time employees (down from 3,700 in the 1980s) and has a backlog of 76,000 cases. Workers who face discrimination or retaliation now have to wait up to 10 months for their cases to be processed. People who call the agency’s 1-800 number have been forced to wait more than 45 minutes just to speak with someone. This crisis could be solved by Congress fully funding the EEOC. Americans would be able to get the services they need by increasing the EEOC’s funding from $364.5 million to $367 million, lifting the hiring freeze, and repealing sequestration — which resulted in five days of furloughs and worsened the backlogs in 2013.
The latest challenge to face the Bureau of Prisons is news that the Trump administration wants to put more money into private prisons, businesses that make their profits off increased inmate populations and recidivism. The problem is, private prisons lack the accountability that public prisons give to taxpayers – and the staff of private prisons are often undertrained and underpaid, leaving communities at risk. Over the coming months, AFGE will continue to fight for more funding in the federal Bureau of Prisons, and an end to the use of private prisons.
On March 17 and 18, Council 238 held a two-day meeting in Washington to discuss the future of the Environmental Protection Agency and AFGE’s role in protecting community health in America. The meeting came on the heels of rallies held in Chicago and Washington with the Sierra Club. At the March 15 rally in Washington, over 100 AFGE members stood alongside coalition partners and lawmakers to raise awareness about the dangers Americans would face if the EPA budget is slashed.
The Trump administration’s proposed budget would slash HUD’s budget by $6.2 billion, or 13.2 percent, from fiscal 2017 levels. The White House has proposed eliminating the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides services such as meal assistance and cleaning up abandoned properties in low-income neighborhoods, and eliminating several programs that help millions of people realize the American dream of owning their own home. HUD AFGE Council 222 President Holly Salamido told CNN that the cuts “would be devastating to the constituents that HUD serves.”