Federal Union Leaders Recall Kennedy as a Worker's Friend

RENO, Nev., Aug. 25 — Federal employees lost a good friend when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) died Tuesday night.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, recalled a man who was “visible and up front in his recognition of federal employees.”

When he spoke to the organization’s rallies and legislative conferences, his remarks “were from his heart and from knowledge that he had about the work that they did,” Kelley said. “It was never a scripted speech that he read. ... You could see the passion that he had for federal employees, for the country and for the work federal employees did for the country.”

From a long list of federal workplace issues that Kennedy advocated, Kelley made particular note of his efforts to fight plans by the George W. Bush administration to have outside contractors do government work.

“He believed first and foremost that the work of the federal government could best be done by federal employees and [they] needed to be supported in the work they were trying to do. So, his work against privatization of federal work, I would say his fingerprints are all over that,” Kelley said.

Among the federal workplace issues where Kennedy took a leadership role, NTEU singled out:

-- his call for Department of Homeland Security staffers to have full collective bargaining rights;

-- his demand for a return of collective bargaining rights to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives employees;

-- his effort to save jobs at an Internal Revenue Service facility in Andover, Mass.; and

-- his push to end the IRS’s use of private tax collectors.

National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric V. Rolando praised Kennedy’s role in winning Hatch Act provisions that permitted all federal employees a greater role in the nation’s political process.

“Throughout his Senate career, Senator Kennedy was at the forefront in working with our union on many of the critical issues important not only to postal employees but to the U.S. Postal Service itself,” Rolando said. “These included advancing budgetary legislation that facilitated an efficient, universal postal system to serve all Americans, and also ensuring that postal employees received wages, benefits and a workplace environment that they deserved.”

At the American Federation of Government Employees convention here in Reno, union president John Gage recalled a leader who was always ready to fight for federal workers:

“He was there, time and again, to offer amendments to stop the unconscionable contracting out of their jobs, and to lead the opposition to efforts to eliminate their civil service protections and collective bargaining rights. And Transportation Security Officers are well aware of his constant and unyielding effort to establish their collective bargaining rights for the first time," Gage said.

“But more than that, Senator Kennedy was a good friend. He was the first to call or write after a victory or a loss, whether professional or personal. He always wanted to know what was going on, and how he could help. I will never forget his kindness to me and to all of AFGE’s members. Our hearts today are with his family and his staff,” Gage said.

From one federal worker to another, William A. Brown Sr., president of the African American Federal Executive Association, had this final tribute: “He was the ultimate public servant.”

Contact Joe Davidson at federaldiary@washpost.com.

By Post Editor  |  August 26, 2009; 3:02 PM ET
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