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What if negotiated raises and federal pay freeze collide?

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2010; 7:45 PM

How will the salaries of federal employees whose wages are negotiated through collective bargaining be affected by the two-year pay freeze proposed by President Obama?

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The White House intends to answer that with a presidential directive after Congress gives final approval to the freeze. The Senate was expected to vote on it Tuesday; it has already been approved by the House.

After the freeze is approved, Obama will issue a directive that contains guidance on implementation, including how negotiated increases should be handled, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Bloomberg Businessweek previously reported the presidential directive.

Wages are set through collective bargaining for some federal employees, including air traffic controllers, though that is not the case for most U.S. government workers.

Neither OMB nor the National Air Traffic Controllers Association would comment on the extent of White House authority over negotiated increases. It is not clear, for example, if Obama could block a scheduled 3 percent raise in 2011 for controllers or if he would have to affirmatively exempt them from the freeze in order to allow the increase.

The same is true for workers in other agencies with collective bargaining agreements covering wages.

"It is not clear how any pay freeze would impact these employees since they do not get annual across-the-board comparability adjustments," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "The increases called for under these agreements are tied to employee work performance that already has been accomplished."

Kelley said her labor organization has negotiated signed compensation agreements for employees under alternative pay systems (other than the main General Schedule) in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Credit Union Administration.

Freeze for contractors

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced a two-year halt on salary increases and bonuses for department contractors who manage the day-to-day operations at certain agency sites, including national laboratories.

Chu's announcement Friday is in line with the two-year pay freeze that Obama has asked Congress to impose on most federal employees.

"As our nation continues to recover from these challenging economic times, households and small businesses across the country are making sacrifices," said Chu. "In this spirit, we are asking our contractor employees, who are doing important research, operations, and environmental cleanup work, to join the federal workforce in playing a part."

An Energy spokesman said the department has greater authority to monitor the salaries of contractors than is found in other agencies.


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