White-collar federal workers who are in or have passed the ninth grade (that is, GS 9) would not be paid for overtime work if congressional budget cutters, now on a long vacation, approve a money bill that already has cleared the Senate.
A little-noticed rider in the appropriation package for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (approved by the Senate and awaiting action by Senate-House conferees) would stop all overtime payments to more than 680,000 civil servants whose only crime is that they are in the middle of the bureaucratic grade totem pole, making $18,585 or more.
The House considered a similar plan, but it was shot down by Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) and others who believe the measure is reverse economic discrimination. Oakar is not to be trifled with.
In addition to chairing the House compensation and employe benefits subcommittee, she is responsible for getting a public apology from a famous comedian she felt slurred her beloved Cleveland before a nationwide TV audience at President Reagan's inauguration. Like the anti-Cleveland comedian, the House, at her insistence, backed down on language in its HUD money bill that would have cut off overtime payments to bureaucrats at levels ofGS 9 and above.
But lobbyists for the American Federation of Government Employees spotted the reborn language in the Senate-passed bill. It now must be compromised in the $63 billion HUD package that conferees will tackle when they return from their break.
Under current law, most federal workers (executives are the exception) get paid at a time-and-a-half rate until they hit the $20,467 (Grade 10) level. After that, they are paid overtime at the hourly rate of $14.76, even if their regular pay rate is much higher, or receive compensatory time off on a straight hour-for-hour basis.
Some members of Congress feel that the overtime provision is applied unevenly in different agencies. A sufficient number of Senators figured that the easiest way to remove some of the inequities was to abolish overtime for anyone in Grade 9 and above. The overtime cutoff, if it survives the conference, is another of those incidents that add insult to injury and could, if there are enough of them, lead to air-traffic-controller-style problems in other agencies.