Friends-of-feds hard to come by

(Editor’s Note: While Mike Causey is on vacation, we revisit one of his recent columns, originally published on June 1, 2012.)

I was once in a situation where our union went out on strike (and tried to burn down the plant before leaving). Not a fun time.

After a few days’ reflection, the majority of union members decided the cause wasn’t just. And the attempt at sabotage was insane. So we decided to return to work. The urge to continue to eat and pay the rent was a major factor. So you had most of the union members inside, working, with a handful outside on the picket line. Except for one guy…

This one person, a real union firebrand, did it another way. He struck while he worked.


He returned to work but wore an arm-band. When asked what it was, he said it meant he was actually on strike. He was working for (and getting paid by) the company that he was striking against. But instead of walking the picket line, he sat in front of his word-processor near what was known as the Foreign Desk.

Asked how he could be physically inside — with those who were still working — yet morally outside, with his fellow picketers, he responded that he was “striking from within.”

You had to admire his, uh, something!

I’ve been thinking about his tactics lately as Congress prepares to kick the sap out of federal and postal workers. The administration imposed the two-year pay freeze. Congress has taken it from there. While it hasn’t actually done anything dreadful, yet, the threats are out there. To future pay raises, if any, to the retirement package, you name it. It is in the works, or under consideration.

Some, all or none of it may happen. Last year was a roller-coaster for feds who paid attention. In the end — despite White House panels, citizens groups and bipartisan congressional committees — absolutely nothing happened. But it is all still out there. Because this is an election year, that could mean feds will get slammed before November, or left to the lame-duck or next Congress.

What is different this time is the absence of friends, visible and vocal friends, from Congress.

In past years the drill has been that when feds are attacked (usually but not always by Republican politicians) a group of Democrats — from the D.C. area, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state, etc. — comes to the rescue. They are usually joined by a small number of GOP House members from Virginia and other fed-heavy states and congressional district. Unions quietly give the daring Republicans donations and political support.

This time out, however, the friends-of-feds are hard to find. We know who they are (or at least were) but we don’t hear so much from them. Not like in the old days (during the Bush administration).

Most Washington area members of the House are in pretty safe seats. Maryland is a solidly blue state. Montgomery County, Md., for instance, does not have a single Republican in any elected office!

Virginia is considered more purple (a mixture of blue and red). The powerful and populous Northern Virginia area which was once part of the 100 square mile District of Columbia, is blue and getting bluer. Because it has so many federal workers (and contractors who depend on the government), it is much bluer than the rest of the state.

Still, it is hard to find politicians — at least up until now — who are literally standing up for feds. Maybe they are fighting the good fight behind closed doors, in the executive sessions of committees and conferences. That is often the way. If so, some relief for feds may be on the way.

But if they are indeed quietly supporting feds, they are doing a very, very good job of not attracting attention to themselves. Like my brave, former co-worker who managed to strike while getting paid at the same time. It’s an art!


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