The Washington Post

Overhaul of federal blue-collar pay system sought

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Blue-collar federal employees who work on the outskirts of some major cities could receive a pay boost under a newly offered House bill that would redraw the boundary lines used in their locality-based pay system.

The bipartisan measure would address a difference between the blue-collar pay system, called the federal wage system or wage grade system, from the main pay system for white collar employees, the General Schedule.

Pay under each system varies by locality, based on comparisons of federal and non-federal pay within that zone. However, the boundary lines differ substantially. There are more than 100 wage grade localities based on proximity to major federal facilities such as Defense Department bases. In contrast, the GS system has 31 city-based localities plus a catchall locality for other areas; the generally much larger GS zones are based on commuting patterns.

“Treating hourly wage employees as if they are in one local labor market for purposes of base pay and annual pay adjustments and salaried workers as if they are in a different local labor market for purposes of setting pay is inconsistent and inequitable. It violates basic standards of fairness,” sponsor Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) said in a statement.

His eastern Pennsylvania district includes the Tobyhanna Army Depot whose white-collar employees are in the high-paying New York GS locality pay zone but whose blue-collar employees have pay rates based on wages in the Scranton area.

“It creates inequities and certainly morale problems,” said Jacque Simon, public policy director of the American Federation of Government Employees, which supports the bill.

Consolidating wage grade localities that lie within a GS locality generally would benefit blue-collar employees working outside the core city area who now are in lower-paying locality pay zones, she said.

She said that an advisory group recommended the change in 2010 but little action has occurred since then, in part due to the federal salary rate freeze in that time affecting both white-collar and blue-collar employees.

“Federal workers in the skilled trades commute along the same routes and face the same living costs as their salaried coworkers. It is unconscionable that, once they arrive at work, their employer pretends they are in different locations,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement.

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