Federal Employees News Digest
Unions celebrate House passage of hard-fought 3.1 percent raise
- By FEND Staff
- Jul 08, 2019
Federal employees and their unions have won a key battle in a months-long struggle to secure a reasonable pay raise for federal employees for next year.
There’s no guarantee that the Senate and White House will follow suit, but a key general government appropriations bill containing the raise is one giant step closer to reality. Earlier this summer, a subcommittee approved a 3.1 percent pay increase. More recently—on June 26—the full House passed the measure.
“We are thrilled with the 3.1 percent increase that’s in this bill,” Steve Lenkart, Executive Director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, told FEND. “We appreciate the support from Congress—and its recognizing that federal salaries have fallen behind the private sector.”
“That gap is now somewhere up around 32 percent,” Lenkart continued. “This 3.1 percent helps us to keep our heads above water—and tread water a little longer.”
“From the shutdown just months ago, we all now have seen that frankly a lot of feds are living paycheck to paycheck,” Lenkart said. “One missed check can cause a lot of problems, with rent, mortgages and food and medical supplies.”
“We are just grateful that the Congress recognized the situation, and authorized this 3.1 percent boost, which is definitely a step in the right direction—toward fixing the pay gap,” he said.
The National Treasury Employee Union joined in applauding House passage of the raise.
“This legislation is a breakthrough for federal employees,” NTEU’s president, Tony Reardon, said in a release. “It is a strong rebuke of the constant drumbeat of pay freezes proposed by this administration and a recognition that it is time to restore funding to government agencies that have been devastated by repeated budget cuts, especially the IRS.”
“NTEU will now concentrate our efforts on urging the Senate to be as supportive of federal employees and pass this bill into law,” Reardon added.
Another major union, the American Federation of Government Employees, also heralded the House move—and attributed success in the House directly to mass action by union members and supporters, including phone calls and letters to Congress and other political actions that have been used in the fight against the president’s proposed pay freeze.
“Thanks to the thousands of calls AFGE members made to Congress, the House of Representatives on June 26 approved [the 3.1 percent] raise for federal employees next year, rejecting President Trump’s proposed pay freeze,” said an AFGE press release.
“Federal employees suffered terrible losses in the aftermath of the Great Recession – in terms of pay and retirement benefits,” J. David Cox, AFGE’s president, said. “The economic recovery is in full swing and it’s long past time to begin to restore some of those losses. The 3.1 percent is a good start toward bringing federal wages and salaries back up toward pre-recession purchasing power.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., attached an amendment that would prevent the administration’s controversial proposed merger of the Office of Personnel Management under the General Services Administration. Connolly criticized the administration for what he flatly called out as “threatening Congress with the furlough of the employees” as part of the plan.
“They are now holding 150 civil servants hostage in an attempt to force Congress’ hand into this terrible idea. We cannot allow them to be bargaining chips,” Connolly said in a release. “The inadequate plan to dismantle OPM has been a disaster, and now that they cannot win on the merits, they’re resorting to blackmail.”
NTEU’s Reardon also spoke up to stop the merger.
“By passing these provisions, Congress is going on record in support of maintaining OPM’s independence and ensuring that agencies bargain with their employees in good faith,” Reardon said. “These are both important steps for preserving our merit-based civil service system.”
AFGE pointed out in its release that the Office of Personnel Management to date has failed even to provide analysis supporting the proposed merger—a normal step before moving to take apart a major agency.
NFFE’s Lenkart spoke to FEND about what many in the union movement see as the president’s hostility toward feds—and confusion about federal pay and pay raises, and why he believes the administration has resisted a raise.
“Trump himself has confused the idea of an annual pay increase with a raise—you know, he seemed to think that this normal move for an annual increase is somehow related to performance,” Lenkart said. “But in reality, this small raise is just supposed to keep up with inflation and with relevant job sector markets.”
“[President Trump] is just confused about what a pay increase is about—he thinks it should be about a pay raise for individual people, when really it’s just about trying to keep the federal sector competitive as much as possible even while we are really far behind,” Lenkart continued. “That kind of increase is critical to the long-term longevity of the federal workforce. The
government needs a healthy, competitive workforce—and to try to maintain the best and brightest. He misses all this.”
“There are a lot of people who work in the Trump administration who come from a corporate or conservative-leaning think-tank background—and they influence the administration to treat federal employees poorly in general,” Lenkart said. “Why? Because it takes away from what they perceive as the kind of competition and private market in terms of benefits and pay.”
“And there’s just a lot of chaos in this White House—with tons of vacancies in political appointments, it’s like the lights are on but nobody’s home,” Lenkart said. “Who knows where [the president] is getting this particular advice, and where he gets his advice from—but in this case, the advice he is taking is ill-conceived in terms of the health of the federal work force.”
“Even though the president wanted a pay freeze—because he doesn’t recognize the pay gap with the private sector or how hard that hits working families—we’re still hoping that Senate Republicans overcome this and vote their conscience, and stand with federal families,” Lenkart added.
“We’re hoping that Senate Republicans see the same thing that the House lawmakers have seen here—the need for the raise,” Lenkart told FEND. “We’re confident they will make the right choice.”