U.S. House member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), whom IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger hailed as a true champion of workers’ rights, said the Republicans are conducting a relentless and blatant attack on unions. Cummings spoke to nearly 700 IAFF leaders at the 2015 IAFF Legislative Conference on March 9 in Washington, DC.

A member of the House Oversight committee, he thanked the fire fighters for their service, disdaining praise from members by saying he was present because “this is what I believe,” citing the unions that gave his father, a share cropper, a better standard of living with decent wages and benefits.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he trumpeted, “you are the last line of defense.” He cited the lows to which morale has fallen for federal workers as a result of attacks on them. “Congress cannot continue to attack the federal workforce to solve budget problems without serious consequences.”

He predicted an even more severe attack on these workers by the current Republican Congress, including bills to cut the size of the federal government and cut the federal budget by five percent, citing the failed attempt last week to shut down Homeland Security. He cautioned about the danger of reducing the protections of due process for federal employees, which would raise the danger of changing civil service back to the patronage system.

“My priority is to do everything I can to see that federal employees get fair pay increases,” he said, as pay is not currently even keeping pace with inflation.  Cummings supports raising federal pay by 3.8 percent, and supports protections for whistle blowers.

“Congress needs to devote resources to strengthen recruitment of federal workers,” he said, “otherwise we will be in the position of making the federal government the employer of last resort.” “There are those in the Congress,” he assured the members, “who stand with you over and over again.”

Cummings recounted how his mother’s preacher collapsed during a sermon and, “within minutes – and I will remember this the rest of my life – and they did everything they could to save his life.

“That’s what you do, every day!”

“We are soldiers in an army and we need to hold up a blood-stained banner.  And hold it up until we die,” Cummings concluded.