Carter aides anxious to tighten control over the bureaucracy with a tough new reward-punish report card system will tangle with union brass next week. It is a multimillion-dollar item.
Outcome of the fight, which each side sees as a power grab by the opposition, will have a lifetime impact on the paycheck of nearly everyone working for Uncle. That includes most of the 300,000 white collar aides here.
At stake is just how tough bosses can -- and will -- be when it comes time each year to decide which employes:
Deserve a raise, and if so how much?
Should get advanced training.
Are worthy of promotion.
Need to be jacked up to do better.
Will be told to shape up or ship out.
The testing grounds will be the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the government's top in-house administrative body dealing with such matters. The place will be the U.S. Courthouse, Courtroom 70, at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
President Carter's civil service reforms calls for a revamp of the performance evaluation system that bosses use to judge the worth of more than a million white collar employes. Within the next year or so, agencies are supposed to have new standards that supervisors will use to pass -- or fail -- employes up for regular longevity raises and other evaluations.
Currently more than 90 of every 100 federal workers who come due for longevity pay raises -- worth about 3 percent -- get it automatically. Administration officials think that may be too high a percentage. They want new controls to make sure that people who get those raises do more than breathe and show up for work for a long enough period to qualify.
There is a pay spread of almost 30 percent between the starting and top steps in most federal pay grades. Employes get raises every year for the first three years if they are rated satisfactory or better; a 3 percent raise every two years in the next three steps and raises every third year until they reach the top of their grade.
Under the Carter plan, which is now law, agencies would set-up more critical job evaluation systems with at least five levels. Employes who don't measure up under the tougher grading could be denied the so-called in-trade raises, given even larger raises or told to find other jobs if they keep getting bad marks.
The Civil Service Reform Act "encourages employe participation" in developing their new performance standards. Just what "employe participation means is the critical issue.
Federal unions argue that the standards -- vital to pay and career improvement -- should be the subject of negotiations between themselves and agencies at which unions have exclusive bargaining rights. The standards cover employes whether members of the union or not.
Government officials are adamant that Congress did not intend for the standards to be a negotiable item with unions. That is what the hearing before the FLRA is all about. Both sides -- labor and management -- will have their heavy hitters available to argue at the hearing, the first of its kind in government.
The government will contend that consultation between employes and supervisors -- not negotiations with unions -- is what the law intended. To subject the standards to the bargaining-table process, they will say, would dilute management powers that Congress approved. It would mean a continuation of the status quo under which employes routinely get longevity raises without having to meet "real" standards, the government will say.
Union officials will argue that employes need pros to negotiate for them. They want to ensure that the standards are fair and uniform. They will argue that "consultation" would mean one-on-one agreements between supervisors and employes, a system they think will work against the employe and weakened any appeal of bad marks, or denial of a raise.
Both sides agree this is a do-or-die issue. It is clear that whichever side loses will take the case to court.