Federal workers: Thankless, tireless and tremendously important

For nearly 30 days last year, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma rocked Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean. Weeks of flooding, unprecedented winds and power outages resulted in 124 fatalities and nearly $190 billion in damages.

It was a disaster of epic proportions, but thanks to the thousands of federal workers who leapt into action, lives were saved, communities were protected from toxic contamination, and critical services went uninterrupted when they were needed most.

From the correctional officers at the Bureau of Prisons who trudged through flooding and power outages at their facilities to ensure prisoners and the surrounding community remained safe, to the doctors, nurses and support staff at the Veterans Affairs’ hospitals and medical centers who slept on the ground and in their offices throughout the storm, more than 32,000 federal workers were there when we needed them.

These are the men and women who are often maligned as the “swamp.”

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These are the public servants who are told they are overpaid bureaucrats, when actually they are 32 percent underpaid when compared to their private sector counterparts.

They are harassed by the media and threatened to be fired by Congress.

These are the 2.1 million working people who have dedicated their careers and lives to serving, securing and supporting the American public. And during Public Service Recognition Week I think it’s vital we shine a positive light on them.

Federal workers are hard-working Americans who swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and it’s beyond time we celebrate — not attack them.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to all the federal workers who work tirelessly to serve the American public.

Thanks to you we receive our social security benefits on time, our food is inspected, our air and water are kept clean and safe and every day you put your lives on the line to keep our borders and skies safe and protected.

Not because it’s glamourous work — it’s not.

Not because you’re paid handsomely to do so — because you aren’t.

And not because you receive great recognition for the work you do — because you don’t.

And to all the non-federal workers out there, who pay your taxes for these vital government services, next time you hear the President or Congress talk about the “swamp,” think about the following.

More than 85 percent of all federal workers live outside the Washington, D.C. metro area. These men and women make 6.5 percent less now than they did at the beginning of the decade — not to mention the $182 billion they’ve given up in salary and benefits during the time — but still come into their workplace every day ready to serve you.

When the government shuts down, they keep coming to work without pay, and you don’t notice the difference, because that’s how great they are. They have your back even when you don’t have theirs.

So please, next time you see a federal worker, tell them you appreciate everything they do for you and this country.

J. David Cox, Sr. is the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers nationwide and overseas.