The good news is that Charlie Day, who a year ago was a $44,000-a-year computer specialist for the federal government, just got himself a nice little raise to $47,600. He is anticipating an in-grade increase that shortly will take him close to $50,000. The bad news is that the 55-year-old Day is no longer a computer specialist. He's assigned to an animal lab at the National Institutes of Health, where the only inputs he's concerned with are the rations for a menagerie of monkeys, dogs and sheep, and the sole outputs the natural result of the inputs. That's right. After 30 years' government service, he's reduced to feeding experimental animals and cleaning their cages.
Day was one of 360 employees of the Community Services Administration, the government antipoverty agency that was shut down by the Reagan administration a year ago yesterday. The reduction in force left him and his colleagues jobless. Day and others thought they had been unfairly dismissed, particularly since they were not offered jobs with the Office of Community Services, a tiny agency of the Department of Health and Human Services that was created to finish up CSA's work. A month ago, an administrative law judge agreed with them and ordered them returned to work, with up to four months' back pay.
"The government erred in failing to accord CSA employes the benefits of the procedures required by law," said John J. McCarthy, chief administrative law judge for the Merit Systems Protection Board. Those procedures require that employees whose functions are transferred to a new agency have a right to compete for jobs in the new agency. McCarthy's ruling extended the October 1981 ruling of a U.S. District Court judge, who ordered HHS not to hire new employees until it determined which of its jobs were essentially similar to the abolished CSA jobs and offered those jobs to the fired CSA workers. McCarthy's ruling went further, insisting that the former CSA staffers should be given preference for all new HHS jobs, whether similar to the abolished jobs or not.
As a result of that ruling, HHS made job offers to the former CSA employees who were party to the suit. Day was offered work as an animal caretaker, a Wage Board job that pays a top of $14,788. His acceptance of the offer entitled him to restoration to duty, retroactive to last Oct. 1, and back pay to that date. In addition, his salary is pegged at what he would have earned -- complete with interim pay raises -- had he not been separated. "This offer represents the best offer that can be made to you under RIF (reduction in force) procedures," Day was told.
Day, who has managed to keep his sense of humor, laughs out loud at that one. "I guess they thought I would refuse the job and then I would have no more rights under the law. If so, maybe they are in for a surprise. I am an experienced, government-trained computer specialist. I ran CSA's data center. . . . The administrative law judge's ruling says I am eligible to compete for jobs anywhere in HHS . . . The fact that they have sent me to NIH, which has nothing to do with Community Services, shows that they consider me an employee of HHS. So the question is, why would they place me in a job that is so far removed from my area of expertise?"
It's a good question, one that puzzles the NIH supervisors as well. Day won't even attempt an answer. "I can't say that it is race. I can't say that it's politics, although I have been active in the union and in such organizations as Blacks in Government. But even if it's just plain stupidity, it's still wrong."