Federal Employees News Digest

WH dashes hopes on fed pay raise, unions react

President Trump has called for a mere one percent average federal employee pay increase for next year—well below the 3.5 percent increase hoped for by federal labor leaders, and in the works in Congress.

In fact, versus inflation, the president’s proposal actually calls for a pay cut, unions complain.

“Is this a surprise?” asks Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State University. “To the president, the federal employees in the end are the ‘deep state’—all the bureaucracies, all those federal agencies and workers who are ‘gumming up the system’ and ‘making America—not—great again.’”

“So of course you don’t want to give feds raises,” he continued. “You want to freeze as many of them out as possible, because you really just want them to leave. That really seems to be his policy position, and this kind of thing is a way to pursue that.”

Schmidt, an expert on the mechanisms of American government, noted in an interview with FEND that Congress could still pass a bill authorizing a higher increase—defying the presidential recommendation. But, he warned, feds shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for that to happen.

“The point is, the president can veto whatever he wants—including any additional congressionally-passed pay raise, and to me it looks like there aren’t enough Republicans who would shake loose to oppose the president on this issue or much else,” he continued. In the end, Schmidt expects the White House’s one percent pay raise is likely to prevail.

Federal unions were quick to blast the White House on the disappointing pay news—and the National Treasury Employees Union was among the first wave of unions pushing back.

“Not only does one percent do nothing to close the gap between federal employee salaries and their higher-paid private sector counterparts, it won’t keep up with inflation, it won’t keep up with private sector wage increases and it is meaningless if they are forced to simultaneously shave money off their paychecks for higher retirement contributions,” fumed Tony Reardon, the NTEU’s president, in the union’s response to the presidential move.

Another major union, the National Federation of Federal Employees—with a sizable member footprint in the Defense Department, among other agencies—also blasted president’s proposed effective cut in fed pay.

“This week, the White House released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 detailing how it sees the future of the Executive Branch and the government writ large,” NFFE began in a release. “While the White House budget proposal is viewed as a largely ceremonial practice fraught with political messages, it also carries strong notions of what the president may allow or veto in that year’s appropriations bills.”

“In an attempt to not be outdone by his previous year’s anti-federal employee monetary and workforce policies,” the release continued, “the FY 21 budget proposal does not disappoint through a combination of the same cuts Trump has promoted since his very first budget proposal and some new additions, doubling down on the previous years’ cuts.”

The American Federation of Government Employees also has announced its determination to fight any such pay cut—and to push for a real pay raise.

“Federal agencies must be able to pay market wages and salaries to recruit and retain a high-quality federal workforce, and that workforce deserves a pay raise that allows them to take care of themselves and their families,” Everett Kelley, AFGE’s secretary-treasurer said in January release in favor of a proposed 3.5 percent increase.

AFGE argued that, for many years, a large and worsening federal pay gap remains in place compared with private sector compensation—and noted that the shutdown last year “forced feds to go to food pantries to feed themselves and their families” in many cases. As of press time, the union was holding its legislative conference with a number of notable congressional critics of the White House on its speaking roster, with members and invitees pressing back against the administration’s proposals on everything from pay to its broader anti-organized labor agenda.  

NTEU’s Reardon, in his reaction spoke more broadly, on President Trump’s overall budget proposal—which, in addition, effectively, to calling for pay cuts, also include sharp cuts in funding for key government programs and agencies.

“Disrespect for federal employees is modus operandi in the Trump administration, but budget day has become especially unnerving for those who care about public service,” Reardon stated. “For the fourth year in a row, President Trump’s budget proposal would starve federal agencies to the point of paralysis, pick the pockets of middle-class federal workers and their families, weaken our nation’s nonpartisan, merit-based civil service, and deprive Americans of the basic services and protections they expect from their government.”

“Even if, as expected, Congress immediately ignores Trump’s outrageous budget blueprint, this is a stark reminder that the anti-employee agenda of this administration remains a constant threat,” he said.

“Why must President Trump start every budget cycle with a slash-and-burn approach to federal government?” Reardon said, and then—like many other union chiefs and federal advocates—he promised to fight.

“Just like the last three years, NTEU will work with our allies on Capitol Hill to defeat these harmful proposals and ensure that federal employees are honored for their public service with fair pay raises and adequate resources for their agencies,” he said.

Although the unions have pledged to fight the proposed cuts, Iowa State’s Schmidt offered his opinion that on this front, and others, federal employees and other parties fighting the administration may face lower-than-usual odds—at least not in the near-term.

“Bottom line: The presidency, as it turns out—and none of us knew this, is much, much more powerful than we had thought over the past 100 years,” Schmidt said. “If you have enough people on your side, as president you can run the country without that much congressional participation.”

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