By Deanna White
On August 9, delegates to the fifty-third NTEU National Convention elected Colleen M. Kelley to a fourth term as president by a decisive 86-to-14-percent margin over her lone challenger. "I very much appreciate such a strong show of support in such difficult times", Kelley said. "The challenges before us, the financial challenges and the repeated political attacks, are huge."
As the nation's largest independent federal union, NTEU represents 150,000 employees in thirty-one agencies and departments, including the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Kelley said she is prepared to spend the next four years "relentlessly" tackling the daunting challenges currently facing the union: drastic federal budget cuts and continuing political attacks that threaten to slash federal employees' wages and benefits and undermine the resources federal agencies need to serve the American public.
"Federal employees and federal agencies have always been an easy target when it comes to cutting the budget, but this time it feels personal", said Kelley. "Federal employees feel there are some members of the current Congress who do not value and respect federal employees, or even understand the jobs that they do. They just jump on the smaller government bandwagon and start [slashing resources]."
According to Kelley, the union is currently facing more than a dozen standalone proposals that could be harmful to federal employees and the services they provide. Those proposals include (1) increasing the cost of employees' pensions while decreasing annuities, (2) extending the current federal employee pay freeze from two to five years, (3) forcing employees to take unpaid furloughs, (4) raising the cost of health insurance, and (5) slashing funding at federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"All of these proposals would hurt the American public in terms of the services they receive. People just expect that there will be federal employees to check the safety of their food and medical devices through the FDA and guard the borders of our country", Kelley said. "But a decrease in agency funding or the workforce would ultimately hurt these services."
Kelley said she is a strong supporter of the notion that federal agencies require adequate resources, including personnel, technology, and equipment, to carry out their mission. Potential cuts in services, Kelley warns, particularly at the IRS, could impact financial practitioners in the private sector as well. "If a financial professional works with the IRS and the agency's service is diminished, the service to [the practitioner's] client will be diminished as well", she said. "[The practitioner's] progress is stalled."
Over the next few years, the NTEU plans to take a two-pronged approach to tackling the harsh political climate. The union will take its message about the critical value of the federal employee to Congress, and it will take the same message to the streets.
"Working with individual members of Congress is critical. We are trying to educate them as to how important these federal employees are. We are trying to make them realize the risk these budget cuts put the country in", she said. "We might get their support one vote at a time, but we will get it."
The NTEU also recently kicked off a massive public education campaign designed to educate Americans about the critical work federal employees do, such as collecting taxes, preserving national parks, and providing services to the elderly and disabled.
"These public service campaigns are critical. We want [Americans] to understand the value of the work these federal employees do. We want them to contact their [representatives in Congress] and write letters to the editor", she said. "We will work relentlessly and tirelessly to make sure the work the federal employee does is recognized."