The nation's federal workers will get the full champagne-and-roses treatment from the White House between now and election day.
For the next 9 weeks or so, U.S. employes, who have had a rough-at-times relationship with Jimmy Carter, can lie back and enjoy the benefits of the big, powerful boss who has suddenly discovered beauty in the typing pool. Reason for this outpouring of love:
Carter strategists want the 2.7 million federal worker votes. It is a bloc that swells to 8 million when retirees and military personnel are counted in. They want, and figure they can get, most of those voters to turn out against Ronald Reagan, who will be painted -- before selective groups -- as an anti-government, anti-spending lightweight who would get the government in so much trouble it would have to ask the Chrysler Corporation to bail it out.
White House political wizards know that all federal workers are old enough to vote, that most do so, and that the vast majority of them consider themselves Democrats. Despite some hard times over the past three years, they figure last-minute sweeteners (a bigger pay raise, no increase in parking fees this year, some carefully chosen kind words) will convince the nation's bureaucrats that if they are unhappy with Carter they would be miserable or -- the unthinkable, unemployed -- with Reagan.
On Aug. 29, Carter announced a 9.1 percent pay raise for white-collar federal workers. Most employes seemed to take that for granted, figuring even more was due them. The fact is they came very, very close to getting a 7.8 percent raise. Carter did not finally decide on the higher figure until the evening before he announced it.
"That last two weeks, we threw away the pay charts, the salary base lines, the other data," one participant said. "It was political negotiation that decided the pay raise amount."
"Blaylock [Ken Blaylock, president of the American Federation of Government Employes] and the AFL-CIO came in and laid it out. They said the raise had to be at least 9.1 percent," he said.
White House officials were so sensitive to the amount, timing and reception of the pay raise that they timed it around the AFGE convention in Honolulu where there is a five-hour time difference between Washington. "We didn't want to embarrass Blaylock or interfere with the AFGE election (Blaylock was reelected at the convention) by announcing the raise at the wrong time," one official said. "We even considered holding the announcement until Saturday, when the convention was over, if the amount had been lower." As it was, Blaylock announced the 9.1 percent pay raise to the delegates early Friday morning in a very low-key presentation and then moved quickly on to other business. In fact, some delegates who were catching some last-minute beach time missed the formal pay raise announcement until they read about it Saturday morning on Page One of the Honolulu Advertiser.
Additional signs of political concern toward the feds:
After strongly opposing a substantial military pay raise, President Carter switched signals, helicoptered to the flight deck of a Norfolk-bound aircraft carrier and told the ship's comany he was fighting to get them a bigger pay raise.
A cost-of-living increase in federal parking fees was due to go into effect in October. Although amounts would have been small (on top of rates that are only half what non-federal parkers pay) the Office of Management and Budget nixed any increase this year. Since Carter took office, 130,000 federal workers are now paying for spaces they once got free. This has infuriated many, and the decision was not to make them madder with a token COL parking fee raise this year.
The White House has all but written off most smaller federal unions, concentrating its time and attention on Mr. Big, the American Federation of Government Employes. The AFGE president also sits on the AFL-CIO Executive board.
Postal unions are getting little attention from the White House, save for occasional pep talks from Vice President Mondale. Carter aides figure the postal leaders prefer any Democrat over almost any Republican, so they are tilling other fields.
The White House rarely talks with smaller, independent federal unions such as the National Federation of Federal Employes, or the National Association of Government Employes. And it has even less time for the National Treasury Employes Union. NTEU early this year endorsed Edward Kennedy for the Democratic nomination, and had very harsh things to say about President Carter's character and ability.