Several good-news items for government workers who have been downgraded, or the thousands facing pay and grade cuts, are coming out of the civil service reform act. Technicians and policy-makers are just beginning to interpret the new law. Some of the bright spots:
Thousands of federal workers hit by grade and pay cuts over the past two years will get their old rank back, and any lost back pay due them. That is a multimillion dollar feature.
Demoted workers whose pay protection is about to expire will get another two years of protection - through January 1981 - because of the new law.
Downgraded or demoted employes who missed out on longevity step increases will be entitled to them (each worth about 3 percent) once they are restored to their old higher grade.
The longevity pay boosts go to about one in every five white collar federal workers each year. The only requirement for the step increase is time in grade and the maintenance of "an acceptable level of competence." Despite the vitually automatic nature of the special raises, some otherwise qualified employes miss out on them because of no-fault demotions.
A no-fault demotion involves any involuntary downgrading action resulting from either a job reclassification, reorganization or a RIF (reduction in force). Although the Civil Service Commission in recent months has allowed agencies to delay many pending demotions, thousands of workers have been downgraded in various no-fault actions.
The bureaucracy is haunted by the fear of massive downgradings in future. Several reasons for it:
New studies by the CSC (challenged by employe unions) indicate that as many as 11 percent of all government white collar workers are overpaid because they are in overgraded jobs.
A coming push by agencies to retailor jobs to reduce average grade levels, both for bona fide management brownie points with President Carter and Congress.
Major reorganizations of agencies that are part of Carter's bureaucracy-beautification and streamlining program. Every major agency shakeup usually results in career employes being bounced around, down the grade ladder or out if they lack seniority or veterans tenure.
The downgrading protection and grade restoration was added to the civil service reform act at the insistence of federal unions, and also to make it possible for Carter to keep his promise to bureaucrats that nobody would be fired, hurt or lose pay because of his reorganizations.
Although the grade and demotion protection has been watered down some what, many skeptics - including yours truly - who felt the president was promising more than he could, or would, deliver, have been proven wrong.
There are people at the Pentagon, CIA and other agencies who would disagree. Many of them were hurt, fired or given pay cuts because of reorganizations made after Carter's promise. Some of the Defense workers will get partial restitution, although the CIA people are, to coin a phrase, still out in the cold. The new reforms do not apply to intelligence outfits like the FBI, CIA, DIA or NSA. But for many federal workers this portion of the reform act, imperfect and unof the reform act, imperfect and untried as it is, is good news.
Pay The Poor Folks: Chairwoman Gladys N. Spellman (D-Md.) has asked General Accounting Office for a hurry-up opinion on the legality of delaying pay raises for 4,000 plus Washington area Defense civilians.
As reported here yesterday, Defense has delayed implementing a boost for workers in military support jobs because the catch-up-wit-industry raises may exceed President Carter's voluntary 7 percent pay lid for industry. The increases would amount to only pennies per hour for the lowpaid employes, but the Pentagon wants CSC to tell it what to do.
Spellman, who heads the federal compensation subcommittee, says the money is due the workers and they ought to have it now. She believes it is illegal for Defense or the government - in absence of law - to withhold raises for these and other employes by requiring them to "volunteer" to take less then they are due.
President Carter's decision to limit this year's October pay raise for white collar workers to 5.5 percent was made within the framework of the law covering government salary-setting. The similar congressional "cap" of 5.5 percent on blue collar federal pay also came under that law.
Spellman's point is that the Defense pay-withholding may set the stage for the government, as an employer, to "volunteer" workers to participate in wage controls. The comptroller general's decision will have an impact on everybody in government for as long as the voluntary wage-price guidelines are with us.