Unions that would like to establish a beachhead within the Federal Aviation Administration, or to expand an existing membership base, secretly hope the FAA decides to play hardball with employees in the year 2000 pay raise. There is no indication the FAA will do anything other than give workers the same adjustment that other civil servants in other federal agencies get this coming January.

But for strategic recruiting reasons, unions hope and pray the FAA indicates (or employees assume) there is no guarantee that all eligible workers will get the same automatic, across-the-board adjustment unless they are covered by some kind of union agreement.

Union membership in pockets of the Defense Department jumped somewhat when employees learned that plans to implement some experimental pay programs covered only workers in units where they were not represented by unions.

For most federal workers, the amount of the January pay raise falls within a narrow range. That they will get a raise is a done deal. But unions looking for potential members would like to plant the idea among nonunion FAA personnel that their independence could hit them in the paycheck.

The White House has proposed a 4.4 percent January increase for white-collar civil servants. Congress is moving toward approval of a 4.8 percent raise for military personnel, which--if approved--is likely to be extended to civilian feds, too. That raise, whatever the final amount, will go to most employees--but not all.

Postal employees get pay raises based on contracts they hammer out with the U.S. Postal Service. When the bargaining process fails (as in the case of the Postal Service and the Letter Carriers union), the matter goes to arbitration.

Government executives won't automatically get any January adjustment (unlike their white-collar subordinates), but they are likely to get some raise based on a White House executive order.

Foreign Service and Veterans Affairs medical personnel usually get the same percentage raise as white-collar civil servants.

Blue-collar federal employees (mechanics, carpenters, electricians and other skilled craft workers) get raises at different times of the year--based on locality--but they typically match the percentage amounts given white-collar workers.

But under authority given it by Congress, the independent and reorganized FAA plans a "core" compensation system designed to afford managers greater leeway to give bigger pay rewards to deserving--in their opinion--workers. And less to the not so deserving. That isn't chiseled in stone, but that is the theory.

The system has been tried on a pilot basis in parts of several agencies. The FAA's program, covering tens of thousands of employees, would be the largest.

Although many observers believe the FAA will grant the same January raise to employees who are not represented by unions in bargaining units, it doesn't have to do so.

Meantime, unions are making the most of the FAA pay situation by urging workers who never thought of carrying a union card to sign up. Recently, headquarters staff lawyers and legal support staff voted in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as their bargaining agent.

Unions hope that the fear of getting a smaller pay raise, whether next January or sometime in the future--regardless of whether that fear is justified--will convince unorganized FAA workers to sign up.

Nurses' Pay Department of Veterans Affairs nurses would get the same year 2000 pay raise as other federal workers under legislation introduced by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). Some of the nurses haven't had a raise in years.

Scholarships The Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund has given 30 merit scholarships worth $800 each to federal workers or dependents in the Washington area. Blue Cross and Blue Shield gave $20,000 to the nationwide scholarship program. FEEA is a charity financed in large part by donations from federal workers.

Scholarship winners are: Tara Arness, Thien-Giang Bach-Huynh, Rebecca Brown, Kristina Buenafe, Jennifer Clarke, Susanna Cowen, Pamela Crane, Margaret Cusack, Meghan Edwards-Ford, Shoshana Frankel, Claire Frost, Laura Green, Nidhi Gupta, Lisa Helfman, Patricia Jennings, Matthew Johnston, Cheryl Levine, Lauren McCarthy, Matthew McClelland, Ankit Patel, Kenneth Petty II, Andrew Reish, Sarah Salwen, Lily Shen, Sylvia Sloan-Swinson, Mathangi Subramanian, Nicholas Tiffany, Anne Troy, Tondelayo Williams and Rita Wood.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

Monday, Aug. 16, 1999