Clinton and Sanders Pledge To Protect Federal Employee Pay and Benefits

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders shake hands before the start of a March 9 debate in Miami. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders shake hands before the start of a March 9 debate in Miami. Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Federal employees should be fairly compensated and their benefits protected, according to the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said as president that she would ensure feds are paid fairly through “appropriate pay raises” and would “oppose across-the-board arbitrary pay freezes, retirement cuts, or cuts to other employee benefits.” Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was a little more specific, saying the federal workforce deserves a pay raise “of at least 3.8 percent to keep up with cost-of-living increases” and pledged his “strong” support for the FAIR Act, pending legislation in both chambers that would give feds a 5.3 percent pay boost in 2017.

Clinton and Sanders were responding to a written questionnaire submitted to the 12 Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns still in operation in December by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. As of March 24, only the Clinton and Sanders campaigns had responded to the questions, which covered a range of issues, including federal employee pay, union rights, and the privatization of government jobs.

“For far too long, the extreme right wing has demonized, belittled, and sought to destroy the federal workforce. That is wrong, that is unconscionable, and that has got to change,” wrote Sanders in response to IFPTE questions asking the candidates if they would work to ensure pay raises for feds and protect their pensions. “The fact of the matter is that no other worker has been asked to sacrifice more on the altar of deficit reduction than our federal workers.”

Federal workers endured a three-year pay freeze between 2011 and 2013. They’ve received across-the-board pay raises of 1.3 percent in 2016, and 1 percent each in 2015 and 2014. All those boosts were below the percentage mandated by the formula in the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act. President Obama has proposed a 1.6 percent pay bump for 2017.

Clinton noted that her experience as secretary of State, New York senator, and First Lady have enabled her to witness “first-hand” federal employees’ contributions to the country. “I was serving as Secretary of State when federal salaries were frozen in 2011, and I saw how difficult it was for employees to be told that even though they were working hard and their living costs were going up, their paychecks were not,” Clinton wrote in response to the IFPTE questionnaire. “The government is not going to be able to recruit and retain the high-caliber employees it needs if it does not pay federal employees fairly for their work.”

She also said that it’s “unfair to require additional increases in retirement contributions as a backdoor pay-cut for federal workers,” and pledged her continued support for veterans’ preference in federal hiring, in response to a specific IFPTE question. As part of the 2013 budget deal, federal employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2014, with less than five years of service have to pay 4.4 percent toward their pensions -- 1.3 percent more than employees hired after 2012 contribute to their defined retirement benefit, and 3.6 percent more than most workers hired in or before 2012 contribute. Republican lawmakers since then have offered other proposals -- so far, unsuccessful -- to further increase the amount all federal workers contribute to their pensions.

Both Democratic candidates, unsurprisingly, also vowed to preserve the right of workers to collectively bargain, and to renew Obama’s 2009 executive order establishing a national labor-management partnership.

Clinton and Sanders also expressed similar opinions on privatizing federal jobs, arguing that contractors are often more expensive than federal workers. Clinton said she opposed “numerous Bush administration proposals” to privatize the federal workforce while she was in the Senate. “As president, I will oppose efforts to contract out work unless doing so is necessary, in the best interest of the federal government and is clearly cost effective.” Sanders said “we must do everything we can to make sure that federal workers are given the opportunity to provide the services that the American people need, and when we do hire contractors that they are held to the same high standards we expect of our federal workforce.”

IFPTE’s questionnaire asked the candidates for their views on several other issues, including the minimum wage, trans-Pacific partnership, and guest-worker programs.

Click here to read Clinton’s responses to IFPTE’s questionnaire, and here to read Sanders’ answers.

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