News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 21, 2013

Federal union protests fund cuts

Social Security workers demonstrate in front of Vigo County Courthouse

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — “Jobs, not Cuts,” and “Repeal Sequestration” were among signs federal employees displayed to motorists Wednesday afternoon in a rally aimed at repealing sequestration, a series of automatic federal budget cuts that took effect at the start of this month.

“We work hard to help the public,” said Amber Tracy, who has worked in the Social Security Administration office in Terre Haute for the last eight years. “I did nothing to cause the deficit and I don’t want my job hours cut because I am there every day to help the public. The public will suffer.

“Our entire office would love to hire more people. We are short staffed and we are trying to get more work done with less people and less hours,” Tracy said.

Despite it being the first day of spring, bitter cold wind blasted the small group of Social Security workers as they stood on a sidewalk along Third Street in front of the Vigo County Courthouse. They were among about 100 rallies nationwide the American Federation of Government Employees planned as part of a national day of protest.

The automatic cuts will reduce federal spending by about $85.4 billion during the fiscal year 2013, with additional cuts annually through 2021.

Alexander Jacque Jr., who has worked in the Social Security office in Terre Haute for more than 14 years, said he hoped the nationwide demonstrations can bring attention to the impact that furloughs will have on federal employees.

“People will have to wait longer in line to get the service that they need,” Jacque said. “For us, we have not gotten a pay raise in over three years now and we have a hiring freeze.”

Amad Ali, executive vice president of AFGE in Indiana, said so far, no direct impacts, such as 20 percent pay cuts, have been implemented on Social Security employees.

“However, indirectly, we have already experienced a lot of reductions. For example, there is a hiring freeze and pay freeze. Without being able to hire to replace people retiring, we are not able to take care of the increased workloads that we are having with walk-in traffic in district offices,” Ali said.

“The agency already has us closing offices early. We now close at 3 p.m. daily,” instead of 4 p.m. “On Wednesday, we close to the public at noon. Not only that, members of the public cannot drop off items for [Social Security] claims in a drop off box. We have closed that to the public. This is happening even to the simplest things, like drop boxes, we are shutting down,” Ali said.

If furloughs are implemented, Social Security offices will likely go from reduced hours on Wednesdays to being closed on Wednesdays, Ali said.

“It is ironic because we have ever increasing workloads with more people filing for disabilities and with babyboomers filing for retirement. Simultaneously what we are doing is we are shutting down early and have less people to take care of this increasing workload. Members of the public are suffering the most,” Ali said.

Julie Williams was among those at the rally. Williams works for Terre Haute law firm Simbol & Crossen, which handles Social Security disability issues. “From beginning to end for a hearing, it is about a year and a half, so if offices are closed for a day, that will effect that,” Williams said. “It can be two to six months to get a decision, but that will take longer with people not able to process claims.”

The American Federation of Government Employees is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government nationwide, in the District of Columbia, and overseas. There are about 500 AFGE active/retired members in Indiana, Ali said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.