Government Workers vs. Their Unions

February 21, 2012

As part of the payroll tax bill on Friday, Congress voted to tweak federal worker benefits. New federal hires will be required to make an additional contribution to their pension plans. While just a small change, federal worker unions railed against the bill as if were armageddon.

The American Federation of Government Employees called the pension change an “outrageous injustice that deserves the vociferous opposition of every Member of Congress with a conscience.” The AFGE was “outraged” by the bill because ”no group has sacrificed like federal employees” in recent years. Union press releases can be good for a chuckle.

Anyway, not all federal workers agree with their union heads. One member of the AFGE found a Cato essay on government unions online, and she was so ticked off with her union that she sent me these comments on Friday:  

As a member of AFGE, I often receive emails from my union leaders urging me to action … I am being urged to contact my congress members, asking them to oppose the payroll/unemployment insurance extension bill. Personally, I have not paid much attention to this particular bill or the consequences to passing such a bill. However, I am deeply offended by the constant calls from my union to oppose any limits put on the pay and pension of federal employees.

As a federal employee, I enjoy a generous salary, health benefits, vacation, and a comfortable pension. AFGE repeatedly states that reductions in federal employee pay ‘cost’ federal employees money. I understand that a freeze in my pay is not a reduction in my salary, but a reduction in deficit spending. My salary comes at the expense of taxpayers and future generations of Americans who will be required to pay down the debt.

It saddens me that the dues I pay via automatic payroll deduction are sent FIRST to my national union, then leftover change is sent to my local union. I have a voice in how my local union functions. I have virtually no say in what my national union does. I do not vote for my national union president. I do not get to decide how much of my dues go to support my national union. I do not have a voice about what issues my national union spends money on.

In the years that I have been writing about government union and compensation issues, I have received many emails from government employees. Most have opposed my views on curbing pay and union power.  When I say “opposed” I mean that foul language is not uncommon. But I have also received numerous thoughtful emails from government workers who are proud of their jobs and appreciate their compensation, but are concerned by the dysfunction of their agencies and by the retention of deadweight workers who receive generous pay but provide little return to taxpayers.

Thus, one suggestion I have for news organizations is to dig a little bit for their stories about government workers and government agencies. Talk to some actual workers in the trenches, rather than just quoting or parroting what the union heads are saying.  

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