A brief history of our Union
Born in the depths of the Great Depression, AFGE formed in 1932 at one of the most uncertain periods in our nation’s history. Elected officials had crippled the civil service, wage cuts and furloughs were on the rise, and promotions and leave privileges were hard to come by. Back then, federal employees lacked many of the basic rights they enjoy today; like health insurance, overtime pay, and weekends without work.
Over the next two decades, new chapters began to pop up across the country, bringing with it greater leverage to represent their members. In 1945, after years of pay freezes, AFGE secured a near-16 percent pay increase with the passage of the Federal Pay Act – the largest single pay increase before or since. In the 1950s, AFGE fought for and won the introduction of within-grade pay increases, transportation allowances for transferred workers, and payment for accrued annual leave, overtime, and night and holiday work.
But even up to the 1960s, AFGE didn’t have true bargaining rights. After years of work, President Kennedy in 1962 proclaimed that “the right of Federal employees to deal collectively with the Federal departments and agencies in which they are employed should be protected” in Executive Order 10988, which established for the first time the right of federal employees to exercise their voice in the workplace.
In the half-century since winning real bargaining rights, AFGE has extended the dignity of a union contract to more than 670,000 government employees in thousands of federal and DC government facilities across the country. Today, AFGE stands as one of the largest and most influential forces for worker, civil, and human rights in the world.
Our union began with a simple belief—that together, government employees from all across America can build a better workplace and country. AFGE’s story is America’s story, and the next chapter will be written by all of us.
AFGE at a Glance
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union representing 670,000 federal and D.C. government workers nationwide and overseas. Workers in virtually all functions of government at every federal agency depend upon AFGE for legal representation, legislative advocacy, technical expertise and informational services.
AFGE believes that all unions should belong to the house of labor and has been nationally affiliated with the AFL-CIO since AFGE was founded in 1932. At AFGE’s national convention in 1997, the delegates took the importance of affiliation one step further, voting for each of its 1,100 Locals to affiliate with their AFL-CIO state federations. This makes AFGE one of the few nationally affiliated unions to have all of its Locals affiliated at the state level. National President J. David Cox and National Vice President for Women & Fair Practices Augusta Y. Thomas are active participants in the AFL-CIO, working to enhance and energize the labor movement.
AFGE takes seriously its responsibility to help provide good government services while ensuring that government workers are treated fairly and with dignity. The union supports a meaningful transformation of the federal workplace to improve the way services and benefits are delivered to the American public.
As a labor union, AFGE is in a unique position because it is not currently afforded the same full scope collective bargaining rights as workers in the private sector. For this reason in addition to negotiating working conditions at the bargaining table, AFGE coordinates a full-scale legislative and political action program to monitor issues that impact the government work force. When Congress debates funding of vital government programs administered to the public by government workers or tackles employee health care issues, AFGE is on the scene representing its members.
AFGE represents government workers who are the vital threads of the fabric of American life. Government employees inspect the food we eat and the places we work, they protect citizens from the illicit flow of drugs, maintain the safety of our nation’s borders, care for our nation’s veterans, serve as a vital link to Social Security recipients, maintain the District of Columbia’s infrastructure, keep the national defense systems prepared for any danger and much, much more. AFGE is proud to make America work.
The union is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is divided into 12 geographical Districts consisting of some 1,100 Locals. More than one-half of AFGE’s members are consolidated into agency-wide bargaining units. Agencies with the highest concentration of union membership include the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice.
Of the 1.75 million people employed by the federal government, only 250,000 are based in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. The majority work in federal offices across the nation as police officers, mechanics, lawyers, correctional officers, environmentalists, nurses, mine inspectors and more. The range of jobs performed by both D.C. and federal government employees is impressive and so is their work.
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