By TONY PECINOVSKY
St. Louis – “Our message is clear,” J. David Cox, international president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), told the Labor Tribune, “sequestration will have a tremendous negative impact, not only on our members, but on all Americans.
“Eventually, everybody will feel the pain,” Cox said.
Cox, with about 250 AFGE members and their supporters, rallied outside of Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt’s office here on March 20 to protest the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to vital social services and the military known as sequestration.
The protest was one of about 130 led by AFGE that took place across the country.
While Blunt has supported amending sequestration to protect meat and poultry inspectors from furloughs, this is largely seen as an attempt to placate rural voters, as there are 148 meat and poultry facilities in rural Missouri, employing thousands of people – and thousands of voters.
Under the terms of sequester, every meat, poultry and egg processing facility in the country could be forced to shut down for two weeks between April and October.
AFGE wants Blunt to support repealing sequestration and raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to help pay down the federal budget deficit and prevent the furlough of federal employees.
AFGE represents about 700,000 federal employees, about 500,000 of whom are subject to furloughs, including about 10,000 in the St. Louis area.
‘THIS ISN’T JUST ABOUT US’
Cox said sequestration will impact “planes on the runway, air traffic controllers, sanitation and inspection workers and veterans. “This isn’t just about us.”
AFGE members include employees in the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Justice, among other federal employees.
“If federal employees are furloughed without pay, if offices and plants are shut down, if vacancies aren’t filled because of these across-the-board budget cuts, then federal employees won’t be able to do the work that the American public expects them to do,” Cox said.
According to the union, most of their members will face up to 22 days of unpaid furlough.
“Forcing hardworking Americans to take pay cuts will have a direct impact on our local economy,” Steven Hollis, president of AFGE Local 3354 in St. Louis, said.
“Less money in their pockets means less money to spend locally on food, clothing, rent and other goods and services. Our elected officials should work together to strengthen our still shaky economy, not pull the rug out from under local businesses and undermine recovery.”
“These are the good guys,” Randy Kiser Midwest AFL-CIO field organizer, told the Labor Tribune. “Continuing tax breaks for the wealthy, while forcing hard working federal employees to go on furlough is outrageous.”
Martin Rafanan, co-chair of the St. Louis Jobs with Justice Workers’ Rights Board, said “Sequestration will impact the entire community by cutting essential services. People rely on these vital services. The least among us will suffer the most.
“These workers are standing up for the entire community,” Rafanan said. “We need to support them and stand with them.”