Legislative Wrap-Up 2005

Local 3599 Exercising More of its Might on the Legislative Front

Rachel Shonfield, MMDO

The Union maximizes its representation of employees by not only filing grievances, but also by contacting our members of Congress. Local 3599 had a lot to talk to Congress about in 2005, such as our shrinking office staffs, the roll-out of the useless call center, and the dropping of the restructuring bomb. In February, for the first time Local 3599 had two representatives at the AFGE Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. Both President Sharon Baker and I visited the offices of members of Congress, whose districts cover Local 3599’s offices, including Rep. Ford (D-TN), Rep. Miller (D-NC), Rep. Northup (R-KY), and Alabama’s Senators Shelby and Sessions.

Congressional visits shouldn’t just happen once a year and don’t have to happen in Washington. In April, Union members in Miami hosted Debra Zimmerman, the District Chief of Staff for U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Ms. Zimmerman briefed members on the FY ’06 pay raise, personnel reform and Congressional efforts to increase telecommuting. Members in Greensboro participated in a teleconference with Rep. Miller’s office, regarding the staffing crisis in their office, which was impacting services to constituents. President Baker spearheaded a letter writing campaign to civil rights groups to educate them about Chair Dominguez’s rush to restructure the agency. Alternate Delegate Rhonda Ellison joined the National Council’s Labor Management Team on more visits to Capitol Hill in May. And at the Local 3599 Annual Convention, all stewards and alternates participated in a letter writing workshop.

In June, the U.S. House of Representative voted on an "EEOC Amendment," which would have stopped EEOC from reducing the number of employees in any office as part of its restructuring. Rep. Melvin Watt, who represents Charlotte and leads the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke beautifully to help introduce the amendment. The amendment, which was only narrowly defeated, received 201 votes, including Representatives covering 3599: Lewis (D-GA),Watt (D-NC), Miller (D-NC), Thompson (D-MS), Ford (D-TN), Cooper (D-TN), and Davis (D-FL).

Our efforts this past year were successful in shining a public spotlight on EEOC’s flawed restructuring plan, which does nothing to address real world problems, i.e., the agency’s staffing crisis. At the very end of 2005, EEOC made the outrageous decision to implement its restructuring plan, even though the agency never received Congressional approval. This action will undoubtedly hurt the agency’s standing in the future with Congress when they are asking for budget items, such as making the call center pilot permanent. So in 2006, the Union will have to continue our efforts to convince Congress to make sure that our funding is focused on what we need on the frontline: staff, technology, training, suitable office space and other resources. Local 3599 has the power to make a difference. Please contact me at legco216@aol.com if you have any questions on how to step up legislative activity in your office or on any other issue of concern. Also, please keep filling out the call center survey on www.council216.org.