Federal Employees News Digest

Pay freeze proposal upsets unions

The White House on March 10 released its FY 2020 federal budget proposal— including an unwelcome item for feds: a proposal, once again, to freeze federal pay.

The plan is of course just that, a proposal, and will undoubtedly not be enacted as is. Presidential budgets are invariably altered as they make their way through Congress and back to the White House. And, as we have seen in recent years, often pay and benefits are jammed into spending bills and as afterthoughts to continuing resolutions.

Still, the renewed push from the top to effectively cut federal compensation (there is inflation which, though low, will erode frozen pay) is a real threat to feds—and it has been predictably met with pushback from them and their labor organizations.

“For anyone still looking for proof that this administration is hostile to its frontline federal workforce, look no further than the FY 2020 budget proposal,” Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement. “It would deprive federal employees of the resources they need to do their jobs, slash their retirement benefits, reduce their take-home pay and generally make their lives – and the lives of the taxpayers they serve – more difficult.”

“Clearly the administration learned nothing from the disastrous 35-day shutdown,” Reardon said. “The American people know full well that federal agencies need resources and federal employees deserve a fair paycheck, and this budget proposal – essentially a blueprint for how to ruin the civil service – provides neither.”

Another union with significant numbers of federal employees, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, also razzed the budget proposal—both on pay and more generally, on wider proposed cuts not just for feds but to many agencies and departments and the services they would provide.

“President Trump’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 is an attack on working people and another attempt to rig the economy in favor of the privileged and the powerful,” AFSCME President Lee Sanders said.

“On the heels of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, this is the moment for a consensus-seeking budget that unites us around core values, one that ensures continuity in public services and one that does not jeopardize the paychecks of hardworking government employees and contractors,” Sanders continued, pushing back on the pay freeze directly. “Instead, the president continues to go the most divisive route possible with his request for $8.6 billion to build an unnecessary and unpopular border wall.”

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association also lashed out at the proposed pay freeze and department cuts.

“Federal employees and retirees serve this country proudly, working hard over long careers,” NARFE President Ken Thomas said in a statement. “In exchange for that service, our government provides modest pay, which often lags behind comparable private-sector jobs, and the promise of future benefits in retirement. President Trump’s budget breaks promises to both current and future retirees, reneges on commitments made to our nation’s public servants, and sends a very powerful message about the value this administration places on civil service.”

“Public service has rarely been more denigrated and taken for granted than it is today,” Thomas continued. “Federal agency functions and employee morale were crippled by a 35-day government shutdown, the longest in our nation’s history, and remain in recovery. The drastic cuts proposed in the president’s budget only will further undermine the strength of our civil service.”

Timothy M. Hagle, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa, offered what he said was a take from both sides of the issue—by feds and by some regular folks around the country who aren’t as sympathetic.  

“From a public employee’s point of view, when you have just come from that kind of long shutdown—where you don’t even know about back pay—a lot of these employees don’t have a lot of patience with this [proposed] pay freeze,” Hagle said. “And, some employees, and some unions, that are very unhappy and concerned about it.”

“Morale is involved in this issue, for sure,” Hagle told FEND. “You always want to be appreciated in your job. And federal employees already have issues there—they come under scrutiny from the outside—people from the outside don’t always seem to understand federal jobs, and that’s been a real issue here, as some people in this country aren’t convinced.” he said.

Hagle expanded on this less sympathetic view—one he says many of those outside of government sometimes take. “Feds seem to get bigger bucks compared to many in this country, even though, in a sense much of that is because many live in the D.C. area or other expensive areas,” he said. “Yet, that is still an issue for many regular folks—outside the Beltway, this pay issue is not something I think regular folks will be so concerned about.”

“Obviously you want at least a small raise, one that’s at least just enough to cover inflation,” he added—and then warning: “Meanwhile, there’s always the possibility of another shutdown.”

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Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

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