No matter if it’s a war, recession, or a natural disaster, public servants are at work and on call to serve their fellow Americans. These men and women find cures to diseases, advance technology, improve our education system, inspect our food, protect our air and water, take care of our veterans, keep our country safe, and build strong and safe communities across the nation.
They make America work and solve problems no one else can handle. And they're proud of it. Since 1985, the first week of May has been designated Public Service Recognition Week to recognize their tremendous contributions to the country.
Every American relies on public servants whether they know it or not. Health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health, for example, work to develop new vaccines for deadly diseases. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors and nurses take care of our veterans returning home from war. Social Security Administration officials issue our retirement checks. TSA officers keep bombs off the planes. The list goes on.
But lately, these employees have been under severe attacks from members of Congress who appear to pledge alliance not to the American people but their campaign contributors. There have been attempts to privatize the VA and TSA, for example. Proposals have been floated to take away public servants' voice at work. And although federal employees didn't start this financial mess, they have been forced to pay $182 billion in lost pay and retirement benefits just so more tax cuts can be given to the wealthy and powerful few. AFGE is fighting to give public servants the 5.3% catch-up pay they deserve next year.
"Federal employees are job and profit creators. They shop. They eat out. They vacation. They pay taxes," Cox said. "They've paid more than their fair share to help dig us out of the Great Recession. Now that we’re on the road to recovery, it’s time for Congress to help employees make up some of that lost ground.”
Budget cuts wreak havoc on local economies. Fort Huachuca, located near the U.S.-Mexico border in Sierra Vista, Ariz., for example, has lost 1,100 civilian positions in recent years due to massive budget cuts.
Local residents are seeing the effects of the federal budget cuts on area businesses and service providers who depend on the base and its workers for their own living. Job cuts at the base have taken their toll on the housing and real estate markets in Sierra Vista. More cuts would turn this town into a welfare city, as one local resident said.
We need to build and move this country forward, not allow good paying jobs to wither away.
To move this country forward, we need a new generation of civil servants to carry on the legacy of those who have retired or are about to. With nearly 600,000 federal government employees eligible to retire by September 2017, we need all hands on deck to recruit young people into public service.
But attracting the best and brightest won’t be easy considering pay and benefit cuts, congressional attacks against workplace rights, and a constant threat of government shutdown. Millennials do want to serve – government agencies are among their ideal employers – but we need to make it easier for them to do so and make them feel valued.
AFGE's Young Organizing Unionists for the Next Generation (Y.O.U.N.G) program seeks to engage young workers and make their experience in public service a meaningful one. YOUNG is constantly reaching out to public servants under 40 to provide them with the tools they need to advocate for and defend their rights on the job. The program also creates a path for young workers to lead and champion change within the labor movement.
Public service has long been an avenue for those seeking to serve their country and give back to their communities. Let’s make it easier for young people to serve!
This year, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia is taking the lead to honor our country’s public servants for their hard work and dedication through good and bad times. She plans to introduce a resolution when the U.S. House of Representatives returns from recess during the week of May 9.
“Federal workers served the nation with extra energy during the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Norton said. “In return for sacrifices in pay and benefits, Congress often kicked federal workers while they were down. My resolution, for which I am seeking cosponsors, reminds the country in some detail of its good fortune in having the best public workforce in the world.”
The resolution details the work of public servants who touch the lives of every American. It also calls on members of Congress to stop targeting these employees’ pay and benefits for deficit reduction.
AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. praised the congresswoman for her passion for serving the American people and her tremendous support for the men and women who deliver government services.
“We need more leaders who understand what it takes to move this country forward,” Cox said. “Government employees work daily to ensure Americans get the services that they deserve. AFGE is so proud to be their home.”