All five labor members of the Federal Employes Pay Council resigned yesterday in protest of President Carter's decision to limit 1978 pay raises for white-collar federal workers and military personnel to 5.5 percent.
The union leaders, three from the AFL-CIO and two independents, said bargaining with the White House is about as productive as driving up a one-way street in the wrong direction.
Now that the president has set the amount of the October raise, the union leaders say their job will be to use political muscle to persuade Congress to veto the plan. They want the 1.2 million civil servants to get raises of at least 7 percent.
The biggest union to leave the council, the American Federation of Government Employes, is still talking about the possibility of widespread work-to-rule actions in federal agencies that would have the effect of a slowdown.
AFGE president Kenneth T. Blaylock said administration officials never consulted with the unions during council sessions. Blaylock and other union chiefs said the freeze - which applies only to government and military personnel - is purely political, and will only serve to put civil servants further behind industry and the cost-of-living.
Labor's walkout from the council is more than symbolic. It now means that the advisory group is made up only of Carter administration appointees. And there is nothing to advise on since the president has already said what the October pay raise will be, if Congress lets him have his way.
National Treasury Employes Union president Vincent Connery endorsed the walkout: but took issue with AFGE over the wisdom of slowdowns by government workers. Connery said such a slowdown by members of his union, if it occurred now, could delay tax collection and refunds. But the upshot he feels, would be to alienate the public rather than win any sympathy.
Connery said the pay "cap" can only be lifted by Congress, and that future pay raises must be negotiated "between equals" representing labor and management.
G. Gene Raymond of the National Federation of Federal Employes told a news conference that his union opposes the idea of slowdowns, and would work in Congress to have a more favorable October pay raise for federal workers.
Public Employes Department president Howard McClennan, a boyhood friend of House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill (D-Mass.) said his telephone has been ringing off the hook since President Carter slapped the lid on federal pay. McClennan, also president of the firefighters union, said members are furious at Carter and angry, now, that their union endorsed him for president. They are saying, McClennan told the news conference, that federal workers would be "better off with an enemy in the White House" than with the friends they have now.
Carter administration officials said they were sorry, but "not surprised" that the labor leaders walked off the pay council. They said they did not think this would change union attitudes on the proposed "reform" of the civil service and hoped they could continue to talk about matters other than pay.
How Much? The bottom line for federal workers is, of course, how much will they get this October? Although union talk about getting Congress to raise the 5.5 percent, odds are at least 10 to 1 against it happening. There are at least two big reasons for that.
First, this is an election year. Members of Congress aren't about to tamper with an "anti-inflation" package, especially if it means raising their own pay.
Second, although the president's pay raise limit is unpopular in this town where the government and military dominate the workforce, it probably is very popular outside of Washington. A little "bloated bureaucracy" rhetoric from the administration will have more impact on the country than appeals for a bigger pay raise.
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What all this means is that government unions that once adored Carter are now very unhappy with him. And their bitterness, for the moment, has caused AFL-CIO and independent rivals to temporarily cease their mutual blood-letting activities.
But the 5.5 percent pay "cap" looks like it is on very, very tight.