Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Federal worker unions have gone into overdrive in their efforts to whip up support for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry while lambasting the Bush administration on a wide range of issues.

At the same time, the Bush administration has made a major effort to convince Hispanics — in and out of government — that federal job opportunities for them are improving.

Although voluntary union membership is high in the U.S. Postal Service, the vast majority of white-collar federal workers do not belong to a union. Some of them have expressed concerns that the take-no-prisoners partisan actions of unions will convince Republican politicians that civil servants are predominately Democrats.

Internal surveys taken by unions have shown that a large minority of card-carrying members are Republicans or independents. When testifying before Congress and in dealing with the press, unions put their best foot forward. They refer to the number of workers they “represent” rather than the much smaller number of civil servants who carry union cards and pay dues.

On Saturday, the National Treasury Employees Union, an independent organization representing workers in more than a dozen U.S. agencies, organized get-out-the-Kerry-vote operations in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Las Cruces, N.M., Philadelphia, Kansas City and Parkersburg, W.Va. Union members also worked over the weekend in the Kerry campaign in Nevada and took part in a political rally in Fresno, Calif.

The public relations operations of NTEU and the American Federation of Government Employees have gone into high gear and have been joined by the National Association of Letter Carriers. AFGE and the NALC are AFL-CIO affiliates. They have hit the administration on a variety of issues, from downsizing and contracting out to charges that the White House is “borrowing” from the federal retirement fund — actually the federal 401(k) plan — “to keep from defaulting on the nation’s debt.”

The charge that the administration is somehow fiddling with the federal retirement fund comes in spite of the fact that there was a four-month period during the Clinton years — in late 1995 and early 1996 — when the same thing happened, minus the protests. In fact, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which runs the Thrift Savings Plan, the federal in-house 401(k) program, says federal investors didn’t lose any money in their Treasury securities accounts during the debt ceiling “crises” under Presidents Clinton and Bush.

A bipartisan law enacted in 1987 — when all the TSP money was invested in the Treasury securities G Fund — contains a “make whole” provision to ensure that TSP investors don’t lose anything when the debt ceiling is reached and the Treasury cannot issue securities until Congress raises the federal debt limit. The “make whole” provision is part of Public Law 100-43. Both the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office have confirmed that feds haven’t, didn’t and won’t lose any G Fund earnings.

AFGE, the largest union representing white-collar workers, has blasted the Bush White House for attempting to contract out large numbers of federal jobs, and for supporting anti-union changes in the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration.

Both John Gage, president of the AFGE, and Colleen Kelley of the NTEU have told members, politicians and the press that the Bush administration is the “worst” for feds in their memory.

Last week, William H. Young expressed “outrage,” saying the Bush-Cheney election team had charged “without any substantiation … that letter carriers may be attempting to influence the presidential election by failing to deliver election material in Florida and other states to homes that appear to have Republican occupants.”

In the past year, and especially in recent weeks, the Bush administration has sought to widen its support in states with large Hispanic populations — such as New Jersey, New York, Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California — with federal job fairs aimed at Hispanics. Despite decades of Hispanic outreach programs — begun under the Johnson and Nixon administrations — Hispanics are “underrepresented” in federal employment — compared with their presence in the nonfederal job market — in every federal agency except the Justice Department.

One thing both political parties have in common is that they are seeking to capture voter blocs — federal workers and Hispanics — who could tilt the election in many of the so-called battleground states.

Meantime, federal watchdogs, such as the Office of Special Counsel, are watching to make sure that federal and postal workers don’t violate the Hatch Act, which outlaws partisan political activity — from wearing buttons to displaying political stickers and sending political e-mails — while on duty or federal property.

• Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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