WATERTOWN — Before lunch on a windy fall day, a small group of concerned citizens banded together to protest against three recent White House executive orders.
These orders would prevent unions from representing employees at the worksite, filing employee grievances against wrongful terminations and other adverse actions, and bargaining over a range of issues that benefit workers and the public.
At the beginning of the scheduled protest Tuesday, organizer Robin Johnson, national representative for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)’s Second District, stood alone holding a few signs and facing the traffic circling Public Square.
“It’s getting harder for federal employees to have a voice,” she said. “People need to be aware of the fact that if you shut the unions up, you shut everyone else up too.”
Beginning at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday’s rally was open to all, but many could not attend because they could not take the time away from work, according to Ms. Johnson. Prior to this, Ms. Johnson was a federal employee for 32 years before retiring and starting to work for the AFGE.
The AFGE organized the local rally Tuesday in support of a national protest occurring the same day in Washington, D.C., against efforts to undermine federal employee unions and prevent workers from blowing the whistle on mismanagement and other workplace abuses.
“Today is a day of action for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal union, and a lot of our compatriots are having a big rally in D.C. today and it’s all about ‘Fed Up, Stand Up,’” Ms. Johnson said.
Federal employee unions help ensure that the federal workplace is one that is fair, safe and productive so that federal workers can do their jobs and provide the American people with vital public services. Sometimes the work unions do is made harder by the government, resulting in union protests and rallies.
In July of 2018, more than 2,000 federal employees, union members and members of Congress protested in Washington D.C. as the U.S. District Court heard arguments in legal challenges brought by federal unions against the three union-busting executive orders issued by President Trump in May 2018.
“The executive orders, basically what they are an attempt to do is to overwrite the Title V law, that was duly passed by Congress, by a stroke of the president’s pen — taking away workers’ rights,” Ms. Johnson said.
The AFGE Second District represents 20,000 government workers covering 144 locals in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
In Northern New York, the AFGE represents employees who work for the U.S. Army at Fort Drum, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others.
“People need to understand this is not OK, it’s not business as usual, people need to look at the big picture.”
Besides Ms. Johnson, three other individuals, all from the Local 400 of the AFGE that represents Fort Drum, attended the rally and stood with various signs illustrating the cause. Those in attendance were Cheryl Burns-Stephens, president of the Local 400 of the AFGE, James Henry, first vice president, and Debra Bookout, chief steward.
“We’re out here to support our co-workers because that’s what this is all about, supporting them and letting them know we’re here for them,” Ms. Bookout said.
Though attendance was the lowest they’ve had at a rally, the officers were undeterred, determined to stand up for something they believe in so passionately and protest against injustices.
“Somebody has to be out there,” Ms. Burns-Stephens said. “Somebody has to make the move, and hopefully people will follow.”