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One Reason GOP Loves the Sequester: It Punishes Union Workers

It's a potential big opportunity for non-union employers.

Photo Credit: AFGE


Back in 2011, in order to prevent the crash of the global economy that could have easily followed a default by the United States of America on its national debt, the president signed a deal with obstinate Republicans so that the government would be allowed to pay its creditors with a lifting of a limitation known as the debt ceiling.

The deal the president agreed was said to be such a cup of poison, even to Republicans, that they would never allow it to go into effect. Called sequestration or, simply, “the sequester,” the deal comprised across-the-board cuts to every government agency, including the Republicans’ beloved Department of Defense, set to take place after the presidential election. Surely, they would never allow that to happen.

But then, to the administration’s surprise, they did. Not only did they allow it to happen, they refused all attempts at a compromise to forestall it. What the administration failed to consider is how the sequester, even if hitting Republicans’ favorite programs, offered the GOP a bonus in its war on federal workers -- especially those who belong to public sector unions, which they see as the key to President Barack Obama’s victory in the 2012 election.

And it put the administration in the uncomfortable position of having government agencies choose where to find their personnel savings: by hitting the income of government workers, or curtailing contracts for non-government personnel. (Given the clout held by contractors through their K Street lobbyists, it's not hard to determine who's likely to lose in that contest.)

In a matter of days, furloughs of federal workers are set to begin as part of the spending cuts enforced by the sequester. The furloughs mandated by the terms of the sequester consist of mandatory time off -- without pay -- for federal employees. In some agencies, between now and September 30, workers will be required to take off 22 days, with no compensation -- amounting to a 20 percent pay cut for that time period.

A Boon for Contractors?

Federal workers represented by the American Federation of Government Employees* suspect that the sequester is being manipulated by agencies in ways that favor government contractors over the workers themselves, allowing big contracting firms an even greater foothold in the government workforce as non-union, contracted permatemps step forward to fill roles traditionally held by government employees.

Among all the government agencies, the Defense Department is expected to furlough the biggest number of federal workers: some 800,000.

Robin Nichols works for the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees a large share of DoD’s contracts, and serves AFGE as the executive vice president of the bargaining council that represents workers in that agency.

“I see the service contracts when they come through for renewal, and while we have asked the director of the Defense Logistics Agency to be very prudent with cutting the service contracts to maybe cut down the furlough days for government employees, we are finding that they are expediting the renewal of those contracts, so that contracts will be reviewed before those furlough dates begin,” Nichols said at a press conference called by AFGE at the National Press Club on March 13. “And we see that as an injustice and a disservice to the federal employees.”

A week after Nichols offered that observation, DoD announced a two-week delay in beginning its furloughs, for additional planning by the department, thanks to Republican-sponsored legislation that will, among other things, allow it to move forward with certain contracts, according to the Washington Post.

“Government contracts are extremely lucrative...,” said AFGE President J. David Cox at the press conference. “There’s a lot of political favoritism that goes on with government contracts and protection of contractors.”