WASHINGTON- American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3354 in St. Louis, MO, has worked with Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) since 2003 to include a provision in the annual funding bills for the Department of Agriculture that prevents the privatization of 6,000 federal employees who work across the nation to ensure that farmers and individuals in rural communities receive the loans to which they are entitled in an expeditious manner. Thanks to Senate and House Agriculture Chairmen Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Collin Peterson (D-MN), that anti- privatization provision is now permanent law, having been included in their massive and historic reauthorization of farm programs that was enacted into law last month after the Congress overrode President Bush's veto.
With the growing bipartisan opposition to the Bush Administration's attempt to privatize important work performed by reliable and dedicated federal employees, anti-privatization provisions are becoming relatively common. However, AFGE Local 3354's anti-privatization provision was the first to be included in a funding bill during the Bush Administration, despite fierce opposition from the pro-privatization White House, and now it is the first anti-privatization provision to be included in "permanent" law, which simply means it need not be renewed. As it is the "Granddaddy of all the anti-privatization provisions", AFGE Local 3354 can claim to have been the inspiration for the many anti-privatization provisions--either covering specific functions or entire agencies, or reforming the privatization process--that have subsequently been included in various measures over the last several years.
AFGE Local 3354 represents and provides services to almost 1,500 employees who work for the Centralized Servicing Center, Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency Loans, Rural Development Operations & Management, and Rural Housing, in St. Louis. The fight against contracting out at the USDA is one of several significant accomplishments that have resulted from the AFGE Local 3354's very aggressive legislative and political action program.
Serving as a model to other Locals, AFGE Local 3354 has worked tirelessly to educate and mobilize its members to lobby their Members of Congress. AFGE Local 3354 also builds coalitions with farm and rural community groups in order to strengthen their favorite programs. It is no wonder why these farm and rural community groups in turn worked with AFGE Local 3354 in support of the anti-privatization provision.
"AFGE Local 3354 is proud to have worked with Senator Bond and Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and others when the Republicans were in control of the Congress and with Chairmen Harkin and Peterson now that the Congress is led by the Democrats," said Sharon Cooney-Smith, AFGE Local 3354's president.
"That requires us to work hard in the legislative and political processes and to support any candidate who supports federal employees and their families, regardless of party affiliation. Sure, it a lot of hard work. But if had we had ignored our responsibilities to our members and to all of the American people who depend on us for great service, the USDA's farm loan and rural loan programs would have been contracted out to check cashing joints and collection agencies, given the Bush Administration's pell-mell push for privatization."