Union ready to tackle pay and benefits issues

The National Treasury Employees Union is eager to move forward with a new legislative agenda, but action on the union's ambitious goals could be stalled until a director of the Office of Personnel Management is named, NTEU President Colleen Kelley said Monday. Kelley said she hopes that the union will be able to make good things happen for its members through collaboration with the Bush administration. NTEU represents more than 155,000 employees at the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies. Kelley met with new Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill in January to discuss the union's priorities. But, "I think the real trigger to this will be when there is an [Office of Personnel Management] director, who it is and what their agenda is," Kelley said. Still, she is hopeful of forging a good working relationship with O'Neill. "I will never have to read between the lines with him," Kelley said. He's a "forthright guy." Among the legislative issues NTEU hopes to tackle this year, the biggest priority is pay. "We were hoping that this might be the year when FEPCA [Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act] would be paid," Kelley said. "Not one year has it been implemented as it was intended." Passed in 1990, FEPCA included a formula aimed at closing the gap between federal and private sector salaries over 10 years beginning in 1994. The gap, which Kelley admits is hard to determine because the Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn't released new information since the mid-90s, is at least 13 percent and could be as much as 27 percent. The Clinton administration used a loophole in the law to issue smaller raises each year because it believed that the FEPCA methodology is flawed and because it did not want to increase federal spending with the higher FEPCA-formulated raises. "We hope the federal surplus that federal employees have helped to create over the last several years will be returned to federal employees," Kelley said. NTEU also hopes to stem the rising price of health care for federal employees. Health insurance rates are continuing to grow, with 2001 rates climbing an average of 10.5 percent, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Premiums rose an average of 9.3 percent for the year 2000 and 1999 saw an increase of 9.5 percent. NTEU hopes to increase the federal government's contribution to premiums to 75 percent and reduce the cost of prescriptions. Reducing federal contracting is another goal, Kelley said. NTEU supports legislation that measures the size of the federal contracting workforce. The organization supported the Truth, Responsibility, and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act (H.R. 3766), a bill introduced by Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md. last session. Under the TRAC Act, all federal agencies would be required to publish contractor inventories in addition to annual lists of government jobs that could be performed by contractors, as required by the Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act. The TRAC Act would also require that in-house government workers be considered for jobs before those duties are outsourced. Making all of this work is going to require bigger agency budgets, Kelley said, pointing to the U.S. Customs Service, where the workload has more than doubled, but budget shortfalls have been reported. "Some of the work that needs to be done is not getting done," Kelley said. NTEU also plans to push for a repeal of Section 1203 of the Restructuring and Reform Act, which identifies 10 categories of IRS employee actions that, if proved, result in automatic termination with appeal only to the IRS commissioner. These have come to be known as the "10 deadly sins." "There's no question that these things should not be done by IRS employees, but they weren't supposed to be done before [1203]," Kelley said. "At the minimum it needs to be amended."
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