Federal worker unions, allies hit Trump’s pay freeze scheme

WASHINGTON—Federal workers and their allies slammed anti-worker GOP President Donald Trump’s scheme to freeze federal workers’ pay – including both regular raises and “locality pay” differences for workers in high-cost areas.


            The Government Employees (AFGE), the Treasury Employees (NTEU) and the Union Veterans Council also all lauded the Senate for approving a 1.9 percent pay hike in its version of the money bill covering government workers. NTEU noted even that won’t keep up with inflation, and pushed for a 3 percent hike.


            The pay hike, or lack of it, is important, especially to women and minorities, who make up the majority of the nation’s two million federal workers, and their families. Those workers have suffered from past pay freezes – under Republican presidents and Congresses – and lawmaker-imposed increases in their pension contributions, just to help reduce federal red ink. There would be no larger pension payouts later on.


            The unions spoke out against Trump’s freeze after picking up two wins against the Oval Office occupant in the last week. The first, and more far-ranging, basically threw out his anti-federal worker executive orders promulgated on May 25, which took effect starting on July 1.


            Judge Katangi Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for D.C. ruled almost every provision of Trump’s the executive orders violated federal civil service law and the U.S. Constitution 1st Amendment’s free speech clause.


            The second win, the day before Trump’s anti-pay raise announcement, was when an independent arbitrator ruled the Department of Veterans Affairs was too zealous in firing workers – especially union supporters – under a VA reorganization law.


            “For more than a year the VA has been improperly using the so-called Accountability Act to target workers at the VA – one-third of whom are veterans themselves – with the clear intent to stamp out the union,” AFGE President J. David Cox, a retired VA psychiatric nurse, said.


            “Veterans’ care or access to it is not improved by firing rank-and-file workers, and now, thanks to this ruling, our members can get back to work making the VA the best health care provider in the country. These women and men have dedicated their lives to caring for veterans at the VA, and they can once again fulfill their duty without the fear of unjust firings from management.”


            That still leaves Trump’s squelching of the pay raise and the Senate’s vote for it. While the civilian pay raise Trump wants to scrap – saving, he says, $25 billion – would be 1.9 percent, Trump kept the military’s 2.6 percent raise intact. Lawmakers must vote to overturn Trump’s edict, and he has to sign the legislation involved, though.


            “I urge Congress to follow the Senate’s lead and provide federal employees with a modest pay adjustment in January, which would help prevent workers from falling further behind next year and help agencies recruit and retain the high-caliber workforce the public expects and deserves,” Cox said. “Federal employees deserve the full measure of pay comparability provided by the law, and a 1.9 percent increase is the minimum Congress should consider.”


            “President Trump’s plan to freeze wages for these patriotic workers next year ignores the fact they are worse off today financially than they were at the start of the decade. Federal employees had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and earn nearly 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade.”


            NTEU President Tony Reardon called Trump’s federal pay freeze “deeply disappointing, and one more indication this administration, in this economic environment, simply does not respect its own workforce.”


            Adding his members are pleased with the Senate vote for the 1.9 percent hike for next year, Reardon said NTEU intends “to continue working in Congress to secure a pay raise for the middle-class employees who serve this country every day as part of the federal workforce. They already endured years of little to no increases and their paychecks cannot stretch any further as education, health care costs, gas and other goods continue to get more expensive.”


            Will Attig, executive director of the Union Veterans Council, chimed in against Trump, too. Cox and Attig noted around one-third of federal workers are veterans.


            Had neither Trump nor the Senate acted, Attig said, an automatic pay raise would have been 2.1 percent, more than the Senate’s rate. But the council will lobby for that 1.9 percent hike, he conceded.


            “Historically, veterans work in the public sector at a much higher rate than their non-veteran counterparts due to many factors. One is that veterans seek stability and protection when looking for jobs while transitioning to the civil workforce. These freezes will especially impact our post-9/11 veterans where an estimated 1 in 4 Gulf War II-era veterans work in the public sector.”

Source: PAI