Unionized ERS, NIFA employees turn backs on Perdue
Unionized employees of the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture turned their backs on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue when he held a meeting Thursday afternoon to convey information about the relocation of their positions to the Kansas City metropolitan area.
After Perdue finished, the employees sat down, but as Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics Scott Hutchins, who oversees the two subagencies, began explaining the process, many of them stood again with their backs to him.
The protest was organized by the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that employees in both agencies recently voted to join.
In an action alert to its members today, AFGE said: “We believe that it is important to convey forcefully, yet respectfully, that the staff of ERS and NIFA are near-unanimously opposed to his relocation plans.”
“In order to send a message to the secretary and the general public, we (as union members) are calling for everyone to please stand, silently, and turn your back on him as soon as the secretary begins to speak.
“We will remain standing with our backs turned for the duration of his remarks. Please spread the word, please attend. Unity is our strength. This won’t be effective unless we all do it,” the union message said.
In news release, AFGE said moving the employees is “an attempt to undermine their scientific work.”
“The researchers and other stakeholders we work with don’t want us to move — they want us to stay right here in Washington, where we can easily coordinate with the other federal science agencies,” said AFGE Local 3403 President Dave Verardo, whose local represents the ERS and NIFA employees.
“Secretary Perdue has stated that his rush to finalize the relocation is an attempt to limit the anxiety and burden on employees. In reality, his announcement today does the opposite by accelerating the loss of mission-critical staff who cannot or will not move to a new location,” Verardo said.
“Despite assurances that this relocation is not an attempt to shrink the workforce, we are losing staff and unable to replace them due to this induced uncertainty.”
“Secretary Perdue continually speaks of transparency and communicating to employees but has failed on both fronts,” said Kevin Hunt, Local 3403 vice president for ERS.
“The announcement today highlights his disregard for the rights and well-being of employees. Instead of soliciting input from stakeholders or negotiating with bargaining unit employees,” Hunt said.
“Secretary Perdue went behind closed doors to solicit ‘best offers’ and ‘incentives’ from the short-list sites. The announcement today is a clear indication that Secretary Perdue does not have the best interests of federal employees or taxpayers in mind.”