Employees of the Departments of Health, Education and Welfare, and Labor are getting a little tired of the long-running congressional magic act. It consists of pulling Labor-HEW checks out of a hat, putting them back in, sawing them in half and then making them whole.
For the second time in two weeks the 42,000 workers here of the two agencies are wondering what surpsies Congress has in store for them on payday.
The problem is a Senate-House dispute over federal funding of abortions. Because the world's two greatest deliberative bodies can't agree, the entire $60 billion needed to run Labor and HEW is being held up. The fiscal year for them started Oct. 1.
A couple of weeks back, the legislative game of chicken caused many Labor Department workers to get half checks. They got the rest later in supplemental payments, when Congress agreed to a continuing resolution on.
A continuing resolution allows an agency whose budget hasn't been approved to carry on at current fiscal levels. That spending authority expires at midnight Monday and, and, so far, the Senate and House remain deadlocked.
Labor Department employees here are due to get paid beginning Nov. 9. Hew workers get theirs the next day, in the Washington metro area.
If Congress settles the budget battle or if it approves another continuing resolution, those paychecks will be complete. If not, workers again face coming short, being paid only for work performed through Oct. 31.
In response to the budget mess, some Labor and HEW workers are planning a variety of actions aimed at getting the message to Congress and the public.In addition to their money, funds for black-lung payments, disability benefits and Social Security also are involved.
Nationwide, you can expect informational picketing at some Labor-Hew offices today. A major job protest may develop at Social Security headquarters (it's part of HEW) in Baltimore. Other demonstrations are planned for Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The degree of militancy, obviously, will depend on local union leadership and publicity the demonstrations get.
The American Federation of Government Employees is the bargaining agent for most Labor-Hew workers, and its national headquarters here is coordinating the protests. This week the national executive council of the union voted to support protests (but not strikes, which are illegal).
Local AFGE leaders at Labor and HEW will lobby Congress today. But they are saving their main demonstration for the week including Nov. 9, when paycheck problem isn't settled.
It would be wrong to say that all Labor-HEW workers are panicked by the situation. Some are blase, having been through this before. Others believe Congress will again pull the rabbit out of the hat at the 11th hour.
It would be correct to say that most Labor-Hew workers are angry at Congress for holding their paychecks hostage over an issue totally unrelated to their performance or jobs.
Rep. Newton Steers (R-Md.) introduced a bill that would hold up the pay of members of Congress any time Congress holds up the pay of federal workers. It probably won't ever be enacted into law, but it would probably eliminate this sort of problem if such a law already were on the books.