The Baseball Bat Behind Obama's Federal Pay Freeze Gimmick

If you’ve passed through Milwaukee airport recently, you may have noticed a table in the center of the terminal with a man sitting amidst a bunch of union paraphernalia. The man, a union organizer with the American Federation of Government Employees is apparently set up day after day collecting support and signatures as part of AFGE’s drive to unionize the TSA blue shirts.


Unlike the Salvation Army bell ringer not too far away, as I passed him both arriving him and leaving, the AFGE organizer’s presence was a little more irksome as his (and his union’s) goal to add another 50,000 government workers to AFGE’s rolls while taxpayers continue to be bludgeoned with the budget-busting costs of a bloated government seems rather perverse.

Unlike the Salvation Army bell ringer, who is ringing his bell in the hopes of getting spare change, AFGE’s stooges will rake in an estimated $30 million in union dues each and every year once they’ve unionized the blue shirts and negotiated a contract with the federal government.

To add further insult to injury, on Monday, President Obama announced a proposal to freeze federal workers’ pay for the next two years.

“Getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifices, and that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government,” Obama said in a White House speech.

The freeze, which must be approved by Congress, would be the first two-year halt to federal raises in modern history. With health insurance premiums for civil servants set to jump 7.2 percent on average next year and a federal transit subsidy to be cut by half Dec. 31, the plan will amount to a pay cut for many workers.

But the freeze is a largely symbolic move to address a federal deficit that will top $1 trillion next year. It is estimated to save just $2 billion over the next year.


As angry as some federal workers might be, taxpayers should be enraged. If this administration’s lack of business experience and poor judgement during an economic crisis wasn’t clear before, the evidence should now be rather convincing.  Just to put how insufficient this pathetically symbolic gesture into some perspective:

  • Obama’s move is a pay freeze, not a cut. The “freeze” means that federal workers will not be receiving their scheduled increases. In the private sector, many taxpayers (those who pay the federal workers) have seen their pay actually cut.
  • The health insurance “jump” that federal workers will be experiencing amounts to $11.45 per pay period for families—far less than the $300 per month some of us in the private sector are experiencing.
  • The President’s recent and failed trip overseas allegedly cost $200 million per day—or about $2 billion. [Perhaps, if he wanted to keep federal workers happy, he should have cancelled his trip, since it was a waste of taxpayer money anyway.]
  • There are 1.9 million federal workers…1.9 million.

Needless to say, the Left is seemingly apoplectic.

Like clockwork, AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka issued a terse, yet benign, statement “condemning” the pay freeze:

Today’s announcement of a two-year pay freeze for federal workers is bad for the middle class, bad for the economy and bad for business. No one is served by our government participating in a “race to the bottom” in wages. We need to invest in creating jobs, not undermining the ones we have.



Since the Obama White House doesn’t move without carefully coordinating with its union bosses, it is extremely difficult to believe that Trumka did not know of the President’s announcement prior to Obama’s presser. In fact, it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t a telephone call made to the AFL-CIO prior to the President’s announcement that went something like this:

Phone rings at AFL-CIO HQ…

President Obama:  Hey Dick, it’s Barry.

AFL-CIO Boss: Hey man! I heard you got a fat lip…

President Obama: Yeah. It’s cool though. It was an accident….It hurts when I smoke but…

AFL-CIO Boss [Interrupting]: Barry, I’m sort of busy right now. Why are you calling?

President Obama: Oh! Sorry, Dick. Well, the reason I’m calling is because the country’s going bankrupt.  And, you know those d*mn tea party people are screamin’ that we make some cuts and…

AFL-CIO Boss: Barry…You know that fat lip you got…?

President Obama: Did I say cuts, Dick?…I mean we’re not going to cut anything, man! I was just joking with you, big guy!  But I gotta do something to show people that I’m tough.

AFL-CIO Boss: Alright, here’s what you’ll do. Propose a two-year freeze. We’ll pitch a hissy fit, which will make you look tough. Then, after we get you re-elected in ’12, you can do a snapback.

President Obama: Yeah, Dick! That’s a great idea!

AFL-CIO Boss: Barry, what did we tell you a few years ago? Stick with us man, and we’ll get you elected to the White House.  What did we say back then?

President Obama: Yes we can!…But…Dick? What about the GOP and those tea baggers?

AFL-CIO Boss: Barry, EFF the GOP and stick to the plan!


Well, if the call wasn’t quite in those words, we’re pretty a sure a call was made. [Prove that it wasn’t, fellas.] You see, as many federal workers are unionized and under union contract, it would be improper for the President to circumvent their unions—why else would it take an “act of Congress” instead of a mere Executive Order to freeze the salaries?  Therefore, it is highly likely the White House spoke with at least one union boss at the AFL-CIO and SEIU, if not more, prior to announcing the call for the “federal pay freeze” to get their approval for the announcement.

To take this one step further: Obama’s announcement is conveniently timed for the freeze to end in 2013—after the 2012 election. If Obama doesn’t plan to give the increases retroactively back to 2011 (which we can’t say for sure), then it is just as likely the unions’ probably court challenge to the pay freeze will take that long to wind its way through the courts—just in time for a court to undo them.

If Obama were really serious about cutting the federal debt, he could begin by implementing some common sense business measures that any good business leader would start with first:

  • An immediate hiring freeze throughout the federal government
  • Offer early retirements for all age eligible workers, with cash incentive (but no pension increase) for the sole purpose of paring down the workforce
  • If the above does not attract enough to leave the government payroll, then twenty percent across-the-board layoffs. Realizing that 380,000 workers sounds like a lot, it is the rough equivalent of less than one month of layoffs that have been occurring in the private sector during this recession. Moreover, it would send a strong signal both to the private sector, as well as the rest of the world that America is serious about restoring its fiscal house.
  • If the unions balk (which they surely will), the simplest way for the president to ensure that any of this happens would be to reverse President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10988 (which gives federal workers the right to collectively bargain) and strip the unions of their ability to have contracts with the federal government.

Now, realizing that the unions would never stand for this and, as noted previously elsewhere, this President doesn’t sneeze without approval from his union bosses, we are only providing the solutions that a real leader might proffer instead the mere straw-man rhetoric that we heard on Monday.  Moreover, realizing the the unions will never support any GOP candidates, these are moves that the incoming Congress can propose and pass and let any politician (including the President) oppose to his or her peril.

Which brings us back to our AFGE organizer. As I passed by the AFGE organizer on Monday—the same day as the President threw around the term ‘tough sacrifice’—I couldn’t help but remind myself that the President isn’t really serious about fiscal responsibility. If he were, with 50,000 TSA employees set to unionize, he would not be giving another federal union a bigger baseball bat to beat taxpayers over the head with.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.”  Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776


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