Lawmaker Seeks Locality Pay Parity Between Blue and White Collar Feds

Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., introduced the bill. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., introduced the bill. Matt Rourke / AP file photo

Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., introduced a bill last week that would seek parity between how salaried and hourly federal employees are paid depending on where they live.

The Locality Pay Equity Act (H.R. 4039) would direct the Office of Personnel Management to adopt a unified map for determining locality pay for both blue and white collar federal workers. In effect, OPM would apply the current locality pay boundaries used for General Schedule employees to hourly workers.

Stephen Coffey, a legislative staffer for Cartwright, said that currently, while salaried feds are compensated more if they live in or near cities, hourly workers are compensated based on an outdated system with smaller boundaries for cities and based in part on major military installations.

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“Essentially, white collar locality boundaries are drawn based on metropolitan markets, but blue collar boundaries are drawn according to arcane military installation placements from the 1950s,” he said.

In some parts of the United States, a General Schedule fed and a colleague who is paid hourly could be paid drastically differently, which Cartwright said can be seen particularly in his district.

At the Tobyhanna Army Depot south of Scranton, Pa., hourly employees are included in the Scranton wage area, which is labeled by locality pay boundaries as the Rest of U.S. But depot employees who are salaried are considered part of the New York City region, meaning they get paid 25 percent more compared with the federal base pay.

“The current system is dated and does not take into account current regional considerations and statistics,” Cartwright said in a statement. “This legislation simply directs the Office of Personnel Management to fix this archaic system and level the playing field for all employees at Tobyhanna.”

Cartwright introduced the same bill in 2015, although it did not receive a hearing. Coffey said his office tried to get OPM to change its locality pay maps administratively last year through the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee. Although the committee recommended a number of changes to the Federal Wage map, including the one covering Cartwright’s district, OPM was not able to act before the change in administration.

Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said his union “strongly supports” the bill and argued it would make the federal pay system simpler and fairer.

“The problem is that Federal Wage System wage areas tend to be much smaller than GS locality pay areas,” he said. “Sometimes the counties that comprise a single larger GS locality pay area can make up all or part of four or five smaller different Federal Wage System wage areas. It creates a problem when there are multiple different pay scales for the [hourly] employees working within a given metropolitan area while there is only one pay scale for the GS employees in that same area.”

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