Federal employee unions lay out 2014 priorities

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Two of the nation’s largest federal employee unions have shared their 2014 legislative priorities with the Federal Eye, laying out the issues they’ll focus on as the government moves forward with its first comprehensive budget agreement in more than three years.

Below is a summary of what the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union plan to address this year. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. Truth be told, the unions are dealing with more issues than we can count, and new ones could crop up at any time because of unexpected developments.

Federal pay

President Obama ordered a 1 percent pay raise for most civilian federal workers in 2014, but that increase does not apply to “wage grade,” or hourly, employees, because the president has no direct control over their compensation.

AFGE said it will press Congress to provide hourly workers with a pay increase proportional to the 1 percent raise for other federal employees. The government’s wage-grade employees include about 200,000 workers at military bases, veterans’ hospitals, federal prisons and other workplaces, the union said.

NTEU said it will work to ensure another annual pay bump in 2015, specifically one that would “get the federal pay raise back on track” after more than three years without an automatic increase.

How did the previous pay freeze happen? Obama stopped annual cost-of-living raises for federal employees in 2011 and 2012, and Congress extended the hold through 2013. That meant three years without an automatic increase, although federal workers were still eligible for performance awards and extra pay for promotions during that time.

Federal-employee retirement benefits

The budget deal Congress and the president reached last month requires civilian federal employees hired starting Jan. 1 to pay an additional 1.3 percent of their salary toward their retirement benefits, saving the government an estimated $6 billion over 10 years.

MORE: How higher federal-retirement payments ended up in the budget deal

AFGE and NTEU said they will work to repeal that provision. “We have to think about future federal employees in addition to current workers,” AFGE said in a summary of its 2014 priorities.

Employee morale

In 2013, government-wide employee satisfaction dropped for the third consecutive year, hitting its lowest point in the 10-year history of the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” rankings, which are based on the Office of Personnel Management’s annual worker-viewpoint surveys.

The Department of Homeland Security posted especially poor scores, marking its third straight year of decline and its second straight year in last place among the 19 largest agencies.

With workplace morale reaching a new low, NTEU said it will work with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, along with Customs and Border Protection and the embattled Internal Revenue Service, to improve employee satisfaction.

NTEU also promised to make the case for increased staffing at those agencies, which could keep the workforce from being stretched too thin as agencies are asked to do more with less funding.

Capping contractor pay

The budget deal signed in December reduced the highest level of contractor compensation by 49 percent, lowering the annual limit from its previous level of $952,000 per individual to $487,000 per individual. Federal-employee unions, which have long pressed for a lower cap, applauded the change.

AFGE said it will push for a limit of about $230,700, which would match Vice President Biden’s salary in 2013.

NTEU, which also promised to work more on the salary cap as well this year, said it will call for an “effective review” of consulting work to determine whether some contracts are unnecessary. “We believe that money should be used for hiring additional employees,” said Colleen M. Kelley, the union’s president.

Social Security taxes

AFGE has indicated that it will press Congress to raise or eliminate the limit on income that is taxable for Social Security. The union says that plan would help ensure financial stability for the retirement-benefits program.

“Chained CPI”

The recent budget deal said nothing about switching to an inflation measure known as “chained CPI,” or “chained consumer price index for all urban consumers.”

Federal-employee unions think that’s a good thing, and they’ve vowed to continue fighting against such proposals. Here’s why:

The government uses a different inflation measure known as the CPI-W, or “consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers,” to calculate increases in certain taxes and federal benefits, including those that go to Social Security recipients, retired federal employees and veterans.

Using chained CPI instead of CPI-W would slow the rate of growth for entitlement benefits and cause people to enter higher tax brackets faster — because the income parameters for each bracket would rise more slowly. For what it’s worth, Obama proposed switching to the chained CPI in his 2014 budget proposal, and many — if not most — GOP lawmakers support that move.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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