In the cafeterias and corridors of the stone and marble government office buildings along the Federal Triangle and Independence Avenue, the consensus of federal employes on President Carter's proposed 6.2 percent pay raise was clear yesterday.
I'd welcome any raise," said Edwina Brown, a 23-year-old GS 5 who says she makes about $11,000 a year as a secretary in the policy section at the Department of Energy. "But it won't do me any good.
"They give us a 6 percent raise, but then the prices just go up more. Six percent won't even catch us up with inflation," she said, taking a forkful of turkey and cranberries in the General Services Administration cafeteria near L'Enfant Plaza.
"Thanks but no thanks," said Brown.
"Last year, when I was working for DOE in Texas, they gave us a raise, and the same day I received a slip in my mailbox telling me the rent was going up. By the time I finished paying rent I had five dollars of my raise left a month ... Oh well, I guess I can't do much about it."
In his budget message on Monday, Cater proposed a 6.2 percent pay raise this October for white-collar federal employes rather than the 10.9 percent raise that is estimated as neccessary to bring the employes up to the salary level of private employes.
For the last two years, Carter has trimmed raises that would have brought civil servants up to the level of private industry. In 1978, government data showed that employes were due an 8.4 percent raise. Carter, with congressional approval, limited the raise to 5.5 percent
Last year, white-collar employes received a 7 percent raise, down from the 10.4 percent level that would have brought them into line with the private sector.
Unions representing federal employes were vociferous yesterday.
In a statement, James M. Peirce, president of the 147,000-member National Federation of Federal Employes, said Carter's plan to limit federal pay raises to 6.2 percent "is not only wrong-headed, it is a dangerous political ploy that may well backfire .... The president apparently thinks he can placate federal employes by tossing them a few eleventh-hour crumbs as he did last year ..."
Ken Lyons, national president of the 100,000-member National Association of Government Employes, said yesterday that federal employes should get "at least an 8.5 percent raise," Carter's ceiling for public sector jobs.
"We've suffered for the last five years," Lyons said. "As a result, federal employes are already making 13 to 14 percent less than private sector counterparts."
Sitting in her office on the second floor of the Department of Agriculture and fiddling with a tray of paper clips with the slogan "I'll do it tomorrow" embossed on one side, Clara Wagner, 22, and a five-year veteran of the government work force, said she "would take anything they were giving out.
"Everything's so expensive these days," said Wagner, a GS 6 Step 2 who makes $12,900 a year as secretary to the director of the Division of Packers and Stockyards. "I used to take a bus into D.C. from Laurel every day. But when it shot up from $36 a month to $85 a month in less than a year, I had to get into a car pool."
Wagner's boss, Richard Davis, 57, spends his days in a white-walled and walnut office, sitting under paintings of mallards and pheasants. He says he's "always happy to get a pay raise," but the urgency for this $48,000 a year GS 16 doesn't match his secretary's.
After leaving the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 22 years, Davis went to law school at age 43. He's been a government employe for almost 11 years, and says he's "comfortable, but I understand the problems of the lower-graded employes."
"I look at it this way," Davis said, contemplating the soup-and-cracker lunch on his desk. "There are many lawyers out there who make more than $48,000 a year (but) there are a hell of a lot that don't make that much. I don't know which of those categories I'd fall into ... Working for the government isn't that bad, miniscule pay raises or not."
Down in the cafeteria, Fred Barrett, a 50-year-old GS 14 food technologist with Agriculture's Office o International Cooperation and Development, said he was puzzled about "where the 6.2 percent figure came from. Inflation's as 13 percent, people have bills to pay, and we get six. Figure that out."
J.C. Green, a security guard at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, weighs in at GS 5 after 19 years of government employment. "I guess Carter just don't want to get himself reelected," he said. "And if he do, he ain't doing things right by us."
"You have to look at this thing systematically," said transportation economic analyst Joseph Warren, who is currently detailed to the Commerce Department from the General Accounting Office to work on truck and rail regulation.
"In general," said the 36-year-old GS 12 over lunch in the Interstate Commerce Commission cafeteria, "Carter is continuing his administrative policy of keeping federal pay increases below the private sector .... But what people don't understand is that in addition to the 6.2 percent, federal employes get grade increases, too, which means that most will end up with about 8 percent in the end."