National Press Club

Labor leader predicts government shutdown

April 6, 2011 | By Lisa Gillespie | lisa@streetsense.org

John Gage, president, American Federation of Government Employees

John Gage, president, American Federation of Government Employees

Photo/Image: Rodrigo A.-Valderrama

A national labor leader predicted that the government will shutdown at the end of the week at an April 5 Newsmaker.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, and a 25-year veteran of the labor movement, said shuttering the government could be a good thing.

"If it takes a government shutdown for a serious discussion, maybe that’s what needs to happen," he said.

He also accused certain members of Congress of imposing their beliefs on targeted government agencies.

"It is a hoax. It has not thing to do with the deficit, it’s an ideological victory game," Gage said. "The targets of the shutdown, regardless of the deficit, are agencies that a certain partisan group never liked to begin with."

The cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency would be 33 percent of its 2011 budget, which, according to Gage, would limit inspections in mines and chemical plants.

AFGE has filed several FOIA complaints against the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to get contingency plans, including "any records containing a description or list of employees or positions that would be required to work without pay in the event of a shutdown."

Gage argues that the Constitution prohibits such practices.

"The 13th Amendment says that you cannot make someone work and not pay them," Gage said. "We want to know the plan. All the details that any employee would want to know if his/her employment was going to stop. Filing the lawsuit is going to help in a number of ways. It’s not that we’re advocating that it shutdown; it’ll take a lot more to cure the deficit than the six or seven months left in the 2011 budget."

Proponents of a shutdown say that government employees make too much money and get increases despite performance reviews.

When asked about a data reported by Federal Times on March 22 showing the federal government rarely denies pay raises to poor performers, Gage said, "I don’t think the statistics mean anything. We represent them; we do not judge them, that’s up to management."

He also countered that before federal employees are hired, they go through a training period of up to a year and a half during which "you can basically get fired for anything."

When asked about the low firing rate of federal employees, his said, "You might have to recognize that federal employees are well educated and do their jobs well."

He said AFGE is pushing to "activate more members" by putting more ads in markets where federal workers live and by increasing outreach by local chapters. The effort is designed to inspire union members to contact their members of Congress to protest a potential shutdown.

With about 2.0 million civilian employees, the federal government, excluding the Postal Service, is the nation's largest employer.