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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Pay and Benefits Watch: COLAs and Patent pay

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Federal employees in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are now getting-or soon will get-higher COLA rates effective the first pay period beginning on or after Oct. 1, last Sunday. These employees have been waging a battle to get their cost-of-living allowances boosted, saying that the calculations for the COLAs are unfair to those who live in remote places.

Allowance area Old COLA New COLA
Hawaii County 15.00 % 16.50 %
Kauai County 22.50 % 23.25 %
Maui County 22.50 % 23.75 %
Guam (Commissary/Exchange) 20.00 % 22.50 %
Puerto Rico 10.00 % 11.50 %
U.S. Virgin Islands 20.00 % 22.50 %

The practice of paying the non-foreign cost-of-living allowance began in the 1940s as an incentive to federal employees to work in high-cost, often remote areas of the country. OPM uses the consumer price index (CPI), a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for goods and services, to calculate COLAs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics determines the CPI.

PTO Pay Raise

Reject a pay raise? That may sound crazy, but that's exactly what members of the Patent Office Professional Association (POPA) did two weeks ago when the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) offered them a 10 percent salary increase. Now the association is preparing a counteroffer to the raise that patent examiners overwhelmingly rejected.

According to Ronald J. Stern, president of the association, the initial offer from management had too many strings attached. Among the contingencies was a request that electronic files replace certain paper ones. Reading electronic files is more time-consuming than reading hard copies and patent examiners weren't thrilled with the idea of slowing down their pace.

In POPA's counteroffer, patent examiners are willing to agree to parts of the request, but are asking the agency to give high priority to acquiring computer monitors that allow examiners to read a full page at a time, Stern said.

POPA's counteroffer would also ask for retention bonuses, instead of pay raises, because certain examiners who are at the special rates pay cap and others wouldn't benefit much from the raise, Stern said. He hopes to turn the offer in to PTO management this week.

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