WHITE OAK – As 300 members of the National Treasury Employees Union who work at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ate pizza, chicken wings and wraps during their holiday party on Dec. 9, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) praised them for their work and vowed to keep working on their behalf.
“This country depends on all of you every day for a safe food supply, for making sure the pharmaceutical drugs are not only safe, but they do what they say they are going to do,” Van Hollen said. He also mentioned their work on medical devices, tobacco regulations and animal protections.
The senator explained that he was working to prevent another government shutdown and to preserve their right to bargain in good faith.
He pointed to a Trump administration executive order from last year “that would essentially take away your benefit of bargaining rights.”
Following a lawsuit filed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the courts did not allow that, he said.
A strong union “recruits a good strong workforce,” Van Hollen said, vowing to make sure that federal workers could continue to bargain for their benefits rather than have a contract imposed upon them.
“The least we can do is make sure we protect your bargaining rights” and make sure hiring is based on merit, he said.
He also said he would fight for a pay increase for federal workers and against a pay freeze.
“We are going to keep working for that goal,” he said, noting that in the proposed U.S. House of Representatives budget, federal employees would receive a 3.1% raise rather than the proposed 2.6%.
But mostly, Van Hollen promised to work hard to avoid “another, totally unnecessary and totally shameful shutdown.”
Forty percent of FDA workers “were told to stay home” during last year’s shutdown, he noted.
The law now guarantees that “federal employees will ultimately get their full pay” when the government shuts down through no fault of their own, he said.
Employees have received their pay during previous shutdowns, but “it was always on a case-by-case basis. It was never a guarantee,” Van Hollen said.
He said there was “some reason for optimism” that there won’t be another government shutdown later this month, noting that there is bipartisan support to avoid one around the holidays.
However, he explained after his speech, “I think it’s too early to tell. The wild card here is the Trump Administration.”
Van Hollen said he did not favor continuing resolutions, which fund the government for a set period, usually at the previous year’s fiscal rate, until a full year-long budget is passed.
Inflation is not built into those resolutions nor or any new needs, he said, adding, “Overtime, it’s like a big cut.”
He hopes the new budget will include all the money that has been requested to expand the FDA campus and said he expected some workers would be moved off campus and into nearby temporary offices during construction.
Plans call for the workforce to rise from 11,000 to 18,000 employees, with an additional 1.2 million gross square feet of office space constructed on the campus, which is located off New Hampshire Avenue.
The work is expected to take 15 to 20 years.
Following his speech, audience members asked questions about short- and long-term disability, possible cuts to pension plans, and the federal policy on student loan repayment forgiveness.
Van Hollen finished his remarks by saying, “I want to wish you all a very happy holiday, and I am hoping a government shutdown won’t disrupt them on Dec. 20. We are working very hard to prevent that. That happened last year, as you all know. This year we hope to bring you better cheer than that.”
The union represents about 7,500 FDA employees, not all of whom are members.
Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the government allocates FDA $8 per year for each American.
“Nowhere else in the federal budget does so little money need to go so far, and I want you all to know that you all do outstanding, amazing and important work for our country,” Reardon said.