NAGE plays it right: Government employee union sees reality of a Gore presidency

By Joe Roessler
web posted October 30, 2000

The National Association of Government Employees stood above the rest with courage to endorse George W. Bush for President. What makes this endorsement unusual is that NAGE is part of the Service Employees International Union, of which AFL-CIO president John Sweeney was the head of before taking over the reigns of organized labor. The NAGE endorsement is a gamble, not only is there is a possibility of alienating itself from other unions but whether a President George W. Bush will sustain or decrease the federal bureaucracy remains to be seen. However the Clinton-Gore Administration, with Vice President Gore in charge of "reinventing government," has a track record that affected government employees and it's unions for the last eight years. What Gore never mentions in his boasting of decreasing the size of federal bureaucracy is that vast majority of his cuts consisted of downsizing the military. The numbers he brags about includes not only civil servants but also active duty and reserve personnel as well.

Perhaps NAGE is learning from its mistakes of the past when it endorsed the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992 and 1996. The "reinventing government" scheme conjured by this administration shifted many government services from federal to the private sector. Politicians may brag that civil service payrolls decreased but the federal agency itself either survived or in some cases increased in physical size. The reality is that private contractors are replacing federal employees. This makes politicians at all levels look worthy while deceiving taxpayers. It appears that they are decreasing the size of government while bringing work to their constituents through privatization programs. This simultaneously strengthens businesses and increases employment in their district and to allow incumbents to take credit during election time. Results and accountability should matter because taxpayers fund these contracts, but are conveniently ignored. The irony is that "privatization of government" has accelerated under the Clinton-Gore administration. Private companies may be doing the work of what was once done by federal employees but the size and cost of government as yet to show a considerable decrease, with the exception of the non-civilian sector of the military. Under their regime, the federal government has become a large employer of "replacement" workers. Yet Al Gore promises to make hiring of replacement workers during strikes in the private sector illegal. In defense of their candidate, unions resort to blaming the GOP congress and Republicans in general for their woes.

Many federal contractors are small businesses subcontracted by larger ones or awarded the contract through set asides established by the Small Business Administration. Some contracts are awarded on a "sole-source" basis where competition is disallowed. Some of these "sole-source" contracts are awarded to foreign firms with very little or no presence in the United States allowing millions of American taxpayer dollars to fill up coffers of foreign companies while these countries routinely shut out American firms in their bidding process.

Despite of eloquence of "prevailing wage" or "livable wages" many contractors pay a lower scale and in some case a dollar or two above minimum wage. Many do not offer benefits such as health insurance and retirement. When a contract comes up for renewal, affected employees are either laid off or hired by the incoming contractor. Whenever this transition occurs wages could be affected as it may decrease under the new contract or increased a dollar or two on the pretense that the higher wage is to cover for benefits not offered such as health insurance and 401K plans. This does not help an employee with a large family who must buy individual health insurance. Many unions representing workers in such companies are mere ornaments. The only actions workers see are deduction of dues from their paychecks.

Some of the problems facing union leaders this election include the National Rifle Association's endorsement of Governor Bush. Many union members have been showing up at NRA meetings and conventions proudly wearing their union hats or jackets. While others come to union meetings with information about the NRA endorsement. These dual members understand that their constitutional rights to possess firearms are threatened by the very candidates their unions endorse. Union leaders respond to them with old clichés that Bush and the Republicans are out to destroy their union.

Gore speaking to Teamsters on October 26
Gore speaking to Teamsters on October 26

With one union leader after another endorsing Gore for president, the NAGE endorsement of Bush indicates the union is responding to Gore's track record rather than rhetoric or tradition of endorsing democratic candidates. The Teamsters and the United Auto Workers held out but finally endorsed Gore in the end. The UAW endorsement is confounding considering that the internal combustion engine used in automobiles assembled by UAW members is Gore's greatest enemy in his quest to "nationalize" the environment. Organized labor vehemently disagreed with the Clinton-Gore Administration over the issue of free trade. The Teamsters would benefit under such policies, especially with United Parcel Service being its largest employer in its pursuit for air routes to China. In the end rhetoric and tradition prevailed over evidence.

Its time for unions to wake up and see the results of what the Democratic Party has done for working families. It makes no sense for them to suggest that it's members' vote for a candidate who stands against their interest. Why should union members in the defense industry vote for a candidate who advocates defense cuts? When union leaders endorse social programs, where do they think the money comes from? Has anyone ever heard union leaders advocate tax cuts so that their members may take home more of their money? What have the democrats done to deserve not only their votes but also their money?

An October 18th press release, the President of the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), Kenneth Lyons challenged Vice President Gore to explain the real impact of "Reinventing Government has had on the lives of millions of Americans." As usual candidate Gore sticks to rhetoric and has not responded.

NAGE must be commended. Their endorsement did not receive headlines from the mainstream press nor did other unions in the AFL-CIO issue scathing denunciations publicly towards them. NAGE members have first hand experience with Gore and his policies while as vice president. The NAGE endorsement is an indication that they know more of what Al Gore can do if he is elected to the nation's highest office.

Joe Roessler is a former federal employee and member of the National Association of Government Employees. He now works in the private sector in Burlington, Washington.

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