Use Knowledge and Experience to Help Nation Achieve Promise, NTEU National President Kelley Tells Members


3/5/08: Federal employees understand issues of government “in a way that only those so close to the epicenter can,” NTEU National President Colleen Kelley told the opening session of the union’s annual legislative conference today.

President Kelley called on the more than 300 NTEU members here for the three-day lobbying program to raise their voices both on Capitol Hill and when they return home in a determined effort to help shape their futures and that of their country.

“We understand that to achieve the promise of America, our agencies must be funded properly, and our jobs must be performed by professional, well-informed and accountable federal workers,” she said. “We understand that our government must attract and retain the best minds and the best employees, give them the tools and resources they need to succeed, and treat them with dignity and respect.”

The NTEU leader was joined at the opening session by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), whom she described as “a leader in the Senate with an outstanding record on behalf of labor and federal employees.”

The first-term senator offered a very strong defense of both collective bargaining broadly and the federal workforce in particular. “I have always had strong feelings about the importance of collective bargaining in our society,” he told conference participants.

With more than one-third of the federal workforce eligible for retirement over the next four years, Sen. Webb said it is vital to “treat fairly” those who perform “the work of our country”—a concept critical, as well, in attracting to public service the quality employees federal agencies require.

The NTEU members represent agencies across the federal government and come from around the country; the annual conference, held at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, ends on Thursday.

The focus of their House and Senate lobbying efforts will be on NTEU’s priority legislative issues for this year:

  • A fair federal pay raise — NTEU has called for a 3.9 percent raise in 2009 for military and civilian personnel, higher than the 2.9 percent proposed by the White House for civilian employees and 3.4 percent for members of the military — and continued opposition to unworkable alternative pay programs;
  • Reinstatement of federal sector labor-management partnership, a successful program abolished by this administration shortly after it took office in 2001;
  • Adequate agency funding and opposition to runaway, costly federal contracting;
  • Improved health benefits for federal workers, including an increase in the government’s share of health insurance premiums;
  • Repeal or substantial modification of Social Security offsets which harshly and unfairly penalize federal retirees; and
  • An end to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) unworkable “One Face at the Border” program, continuing opposition to the imposition of anti-employee personnel rules, and collective bargaining rights for all DHS employees.

Under the banner of the conference theme — “Our Union, Our Voice” — President Kelley recounted some of the union’s accomplishments over the past seven years despite an openly-hostile administration.

These include securing permanent legislative language applicable across government to help level the playing field in the public-private fight for government work; turning back the DHS effort to impose regressive labor relations rules; winning higher pay raises than proposed by the White House; securing an enhanced law enforcement officer (LEO) retirement benefit for DHS’s Customs and Border Protection Officers; and leading a nationwide effort to block the planned closing of half its laboratories by the Food and Drug Administration.

With respect to the SEC, NTEU will continue its legislative work to increase the merit pay budget to 3% and to create a supplemental retirement benefit for SEC employees. “Together,” she told the conference, “we can make our voices heard. We have the knowledge, the experience and the momentum—and we have the vehicle: our union, our voice.”