"Judgment Day" Closer than You Think

August 30, 2007

By John Gage

AFGE President

Washington, DC

It may seem like the distant future, but it’s not. And if you’ll pardon the religious allegory, it will be something of a “judgment day” for AFGE members.

I’m speaking of the 2008 election. An election that will decide control of the White House, Congress, and, over the long run, the Supreme Court as well.

All workers have an enormous amount at stake in these elections, but AFGE members have even more. That’s because not only will we choose the officials who will decide what our government does about the health care crisis, the economy, retirement security, the war in Iraq and a host of other critical issues — we will also be electing our own bosses.

They will determine the very terms of our employment — our job security, our pay and benefits, our ability to serve the public effectively, and even, potentially, the survival of the professional civil service system that it is our mission to uphold.

What’s at stake is perhaps best exemplified by the Bush administration’s misguided National Security Personnel System (NSPS), which would destroy collective bargaining and due process rights for Department of Defense employees. Along with MaxHR and the so-called Working for America Act, it would eviscerate the civil service system. We removed the worst parts of NSPS in the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill that passed the House. While we are fighting to include this in the Senate version and override a threatened veto — or kill off NSPS as our legal action wends its way through the appellate process — its fate may ultimately be decided by the 2008 elections.

The same holds true of our fight to give Transportation Security Officers their inalienable right to bargain collectively. We have already won House and Senate votes restoring this right to TSOs, but, here again, the president is threatening a veto. So this issue also might need to be resolved in the 2008 elections.

A third issue at stake is reversing the Bush administration’s relentless privatization schemes, which are reducing accountability and funneling public funds into the private pockets of crony contractors. We succeeded in attaching an ambitious, comprehensive contracting out reform amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill that makes appeal rights equitable, eliminates automatic recompetition, ends OMB privatization quotas, and makes other important changes. But this issue also will be addressed more fully under a new president in 2009.

With these and many other matters that directly affect AFGE members’ quality of life hanging in the balance, it could not be more critical that every part of our union, at the Local, District, Council and national levels, go into overdrive to shape the public debate and impact the outcome of the 2008 elections.

Already, it is clear why this is so important. Several presidential contenders are stooping to the old, tired tactic of bashing government employees. For example, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani talks of getting rid of 20 percent of the federal workforce, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says he will reorganize the entire civil service system. That is why, in addition to electing a president who will support government employees, we must also aggressively shape the public dialogue to prevent the misuse of our members as a political football.

As we gear up for the hard work ahead, we have much to be proud of. Our legislative victories so far in this Congress are unparalleled. Despite the Appeals Court setback on NSPS, we have won more than our share of court cases and grievances. We continue to recruit more members and grow stronger. We are also reaching out more to the media, the public and our members to publicize our work and victories.

Still, these achievements must be a prelude to AFGE becoming a powerhouse over the next 17 months. We must not only strengthen our grassroots mobilization capacity and our Legislative and Political Training Institute — we must also strengthen our representation, bargaining, organizing and communications capacities, as I discussed in the last issue of the Government Standard.

It is also very important that you take the time to answer our 2008 presidential preference poll, so we know precisely what our members are thinking before we take union-wide action.

Clearly, 2008 will be a pivotal election in American history. For us, it is a singular opportunity to reverse course from the cronyism, incompetence, greed and malevolence that have characterized the executive branch since 2001, and to build larger majorities for justice, equal opportunity, worker and human rights, and a stronger democracy in Congress. Future generations will surely pass judgment on our efforts. We cannot let them down!