Union poised for budget fight but also ready to deal

Union poised for budget fight but also ready to deal

March 2, 2017 (Photo Credit: Michael Murphy)
Tony Reardon is settling in for a long fight.

With the continued rumblings of stark cuts to federal agencies expected in the White House’s budget, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union spent March 2 rallying members for a massive grassroots campaign to oppose the slashing of domestic spending.

But that doesn’t mean Reardon isn’t willing to make a deal with Congress.

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As momentum for civil service reform stirs in the Senate, Reardon told members of the media gathered at NTEU’s legislative conference that he was open, to a point, to talking about reshaping the federal workforce.

“The [General Schedule] system, I believe is still good,” he said. “For the record, I’ve not been contacted by Sen. [James] Lankford or anyone else. But to the extent that somebody would contact me, look, I’m willing to talk to anybody about anything. I’m willing to listen.”

“I think, candidly, the system that is in place — if it is utilized properly — is a system that has proven to work,” he added.

Civil service reform has recently been on the lips of Lankford, R-Okla., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who held hearings last month to explore other workforce options that stand apart from the White House’s recent federal hiring freeze.

“The last time Congress accomplished significant governmentwide reform was with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978,” Lankford said during the hearing.

“I believe the time for federal civil service reform is now. Congress can either watch as the administration deals with the federal workforce through executive actions or it can find consensus, work with the administration and take up the mantle of substantive legislative reform.”

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And for federal employee unions staring down the barrel of President Trump’s budget cuts, Congress’ appropriations authority has become central to its grassroots campaign to stifle the White House’s designs for the federal workforce.

Speaking before his membership, Reardon called for a large and active mobilization to contact Congress and advocate against the cuts, but acknowledged that Republican majorities in both chambers make it a tough road to hoe for employee unions.

“We are in an extremely challenging time right now,” he said. “Whenever there’s a change in administrations — especially when one party replaces another — there’s a great deal of uncertainty.”

The uncertainty over the future of the budget, or who will even be leading a number of agencies, has put NTEU on the offense, demonstrating the value of not only federal employees, but also the services they provide.

Reardon noted that 30 percent of the federal workforce is made up of veterans and that the IRS — whose employees make up a large portion of the union’s membership — help fund the national security and public safety services the nation has come to depend on.

But while NTEU is mobilizing for fight on Capitol Hill, Reardon said that he was willing to keep the channels of communication open.   

“Look, labor and management don’t always agree, but at least they are at the same table, they are talking about issues and they are trying to solve problems,” he said.  

 

 

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