German workers rally at Ramstein Air Base for higher wages
By CID STANDIFER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 3, 2013
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — There may have been only about a dozen protesters at Ramstein Air Base Wednesday, but they brought along the Three Little Pigs for muscle.
The pigs — balloon-filled bags with pig faces and ears — bore signs in German saying: “Employees of the armed forces,” referring not to supposed greed, but to the German idiom, “poor pig!”
The union representing German civilians working on U.S. bases in the Kaiserslautern Military Community says they haven’t received raises in three years, even as inflation – about 2 percent annually, according to statistics maintained by Triami Media BV — and rising energy prices have eaten into their paychecks. The protesters handed out fake $0 bills to symbolize their plight.
The union staged the symbolic protests at Ramstein, Pirmasens and other bases in the Kaiserslautern area a day before workers, represented by the union ver.di were to meet with the military’s representatives to lay out initial positions for tariff agreement negotiations, which ver.di says will affect pay for 22,000 German civilians. Full-fledged negotiations are scheduled to take place April 23.
Regina Divivier, a union representative and member of the Ramstein Works Council, which resolves problems between employees and bosses, said the union represents about 600 civilian workers at Ramstein alone.
For each of the past two years, workers have accepted a one-time 300-euro bonus instead of raises, according to Divivier. This time, she said, they plan to ask for raises of 5.5 percent, though she said that was negotiable.
Divivier said that there was already a first round of negotiations in February where the employers said they could grant no pay raise at all.
Harsh economics are squeezing the military from all sides, with sequestration demanding dramatic cuts from each of the services. To cut costs, most civilian Defense Department employees are slated for a 14-day furlough this year spread out one day a week through September, which will amount to a loss of nearly three weeks’ pay. And U.S. federal workers also have not seen recent pay raises; Congress recently extended a pay freeze on civilian federal employees into its third year.
The protesters wore plastic vests emblazoned with Wir sind es wert — “We’re worth it.”
“If you have a job and you do your job, you’re worth your money,” said Ingrid Buschmann, another employee.
Asked what she thought about the union’s chances for winning a raise under current fiscal conditions, Divivier demurred, saying she didn’t want to undermine the union’s negotiating position.
But Kurt Saipt, another employee representative on the Works Council, doesn’t think the economy is the problem.
“I think that it’s not a question of if they can or not,” he said. “It’s whether they recognize it’s important.”
Reporter Marcus Klöckner contributed to this report.
Pia Mueller, a secretary of the ver.di union representing German workers on U.S. bases, positions a sign during a protest April 3, 2013, on Ramstein Air Base, Germany. German employees working on bases in the Kaiserslautern area say they haven't received wage increases for three years.
DAVID ROGERS/STARS AND STRIPES