Federal Worker Union Leaders: Obama’s Planned Pay Hike Too Small

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Democratic President Barack Obama’s planned 1.6 percent raise for federal workers starting on Jan. 1 is too little, leaders of top federal worker unions say.

Acting because the Republican-run Congress has yet to do so, Obama announced the hike on August 31: A flat 1 percent increase for every worker and all military personnel plus a 0.6 percent “locality pay” increase for workers living in high-cost areas. Congress could still override Obama’s plan by enacting a raise – or none at all.

But Obama’s hike is too little, say Government Employees President J. David Cox said, because it comes after three years of pay freezes that lawmakers imposed, followed by a small hike last year. The Treasury Employees, in an unsigned statement, agreed.

And those years also saw Congress’ ruling Republicans in effect cut federal workers’ pay by forcing them to triple their contributions to pension plans. The Republicans have yet to comment on Obama’s latest proposal.

Instead of Obama’s hike, both AFGE and NTEU support legislation by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and 71 other House Democrats and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, for a 3.9 percent general pay increase and a 1.4 percent locality pay hike on top of that.

“A 1.6 percent pay raise does nothing to make up for years of pay freezes and miniscule increases that have left federal employees worse off today than they were at the start of the decade,” Cox said. “President Obama acted because Congress has not. AFGE reiterates our call for Congress to pass a 5.3 percent pay raise in 2017 that will make up for years of neglect and begin to close the widening gap between employees in the federal and private sectors.”

“NTEU believes this is far too low given the last few years’ erosion in federal pay -- from the recent three-year pay freeze to the last three years of meager raises. We continue to highlight the impact on federal workers of low pay increases and the impact on federal agencies’ ability to recruit and retain the skilled workforce our nation needs,” the union said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., a cosponsor of Connolly’s bill, called Obama’s raise “a step in the right direction, although it provides a raise in 2017 that is below what federal employees deserve.” After reiterating the points about the pay freeze and modest increase, he said 1.6 percent is also below “what common sense dictates we ought to pay those who give so much in the service of our country and its people.  

“In the next Congress, I will continue to push for a pay raise that reflects the past contri-butions federal employees made to deficit reduction during the height of the financial crisis as well as their ongoing contributions to our economic growth and national security,” Hoyer said.

In his letter to lawmakers, Obama said that had neither he nor Congress acted, an automatic increase mandated by federal pay parity laws would have taken effect. He implied it would have been much higher than 1.6 percent. And he claimed the 1.6 percent hike “will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well-qualified federal work force.”

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