Social Security workers protest proposed budget cuts

'Furlough Congress,' employees shout at union rally

March 02, 2011|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

Social Security Administration employees rallied outside the agency's Woodlawn headquarters and offices across the country Wednesday in a union-organized protest against proposed budget cuts.

Workers shouted "furlough Congress" after hearing an American Federation of Government Employees leader say cuts in a House-approved budget would be the equivalent of workers taking off an entire month without pay.

Congress is five months into the current fiscal year but has yet to pass a budget. The version passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would reduce total spending on all agencies by $61 billion compared with last fiscal year.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement Wednesday that the legislation "makes common-sense spending cuts that economists say are needed to help boost our economy." Democrats, who hold the majority in the Senate, have criticized the size of the reduction as economically damaging.

It's unclear whether Social Security officials would spread the cuts out by operating with fewer workers constantly or closing offices on certain days, said Witold Skwierczynski, who heads an American Federation of Government Employees bargaining unit that represents about 30,000 Social Security employees. Either way, the result would increase the time it takes for Americans to resolve problems, have claims processed and get approved for retirement and disability checks, he said.

"It would have a severe impact on the level of service," he said in an interview before the rally.

Social Security is a major employer in the state. The agency has 12,700 workers in Maryland offices, most at the Woodlawn complex.

Agency officials did not return a telephone call seeking comment. But Michael J. Astrue, the agency's commissioner, said in a statement last month that President Barack Obama's budget request for Social Security's administrative expenses "is the minimum the agency needs to continue to reduce key backlogs and to increase deficit-reducing program integrity work."

jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

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