The federal government is considering several actions that would improve the pay and protect the civilian benefits of the estimated 10,000 civil servants whose reserve and National Guard units have been activated because of the Persian Gulf War.
Officials say one of every 10 National Guard or reserve unit members is a government worker. One reason: The government encourages membership and gives employees full civilian pay while they are on training. By contrast, many private employers discourage membership. Some require citizen-soldiers to take vacation time or refuse to pay them while on military training.
It has been six months since the first reservists were mobilized. Things being considered for them include:
The U.S. Postal Service, the largest federal agency, is looking at a union plan to give full civilian pay to the 1,503 clerks, letter carriers and others who have been mobilized. Vincent Sombrotto of the Letter Carriers Union and Moe Biller of the American Postal Workers Union have proposed full civilian pay for mobilized postal workers. Their military pay would be returned to the Treasury.
The typical clerk-carrier is paid nearly $30,000 per year, according to a Postal Service spokesman. That is more than most are paid in military jobs.
If the Postal Service, which has 800,000 employees, agreed to the plan, it would put pressure on Congress to extend the benefit to employees in other agencies who have been called to active duty. The Postal Service, because of its quasi-corporation status, could act on its own.
When the gulf crisis began, Postmaster General Anthony Frank took the lead and announced that the service would pay health and life insurance premiums of mobilized employees for 90 days. The Office of Personnel Management quickly followed suit, saying none of the employees would be charged premiums for a full year while they were on leave-without-pay status.
OPM will seek legislation extending the premium-free period past the one year cutoff. Currently, employees on military duty must pay their full federal health premiums after a year. That could be very costly, especially because most have taken a pay cut. For example: The total biweekly premium for Blue Cross-Blue Shield's standard family plan is $142.21. Postal employees (because of their union contract) pay $8.89 of that, with the Postal Service paying the remainder. Non-postal federal workers in the same plan pay $35.55 every two weeks, and the government pays the remaining $106.66.
Some federal employees have complained about colleagues who, after being involved in reserve and Guard units for years, stayed behind when their units were called up. They asked why the employees took time off for training and were considered key parts of their military units (while drawing both civilian and military pay and collecting retirement points), but were declared essential in their civilian jobs when the shooting started. Good question!