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

Stay Healthy, Join a Union

A gym membership discount is always a nice employee health plan perk. Now a new study suggests a different type of affiliation also could have an impact on your overall health and well-being: union membership.

Researchers at Duke University asked 11,000 union and nonunion members questions about their general health and found that 85 percent of unionized employees reported being in good health versus 82 percent who were not part of a union. The scientists were testing the results of a larger 30-year cumulative study conducted between 1973 and 2006, which came to the same conclusion. After statistical analysis, the new study found that the 3 percentage point difference in the small sample could account for as many as 3.7 million employees.

Although researchers cannot determine the specific causes for the difference, one suggestion is the union wage premium is higher among workers in low-skilled occupations, and other studies have previously concluded that income has the biggest effect on employee health and well-being. This study also placed emphasis on “the mediating role of income” in evaluating how union membership might influence overall health.

“Additionally, recent improvements in health, safety and working conditions that have benefitted the working class probably have not reached all workers equally,” the researchers said. “As a result, those segments of the working class that have not benefitted from improved workplaces may depend more greatly on union membership for such protections, and this may result in stronger health-union membership associations for some.”

TSP Roth Update

The number of federal employees who have been unable to enroll in the Thrift Savings Plan’s new Roth option since it became available May 7 hovers somewhere around 1 million, but most are slated to be able to sign up by July.

We previously reported that these employees were unable to enroll because payroll systems at many agencies weren’t prepared for the shift. A July deadline had been set for civilians at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, and an October deadline for the Air Force.

A recent Washington Post report expanded on the other departments that will be able to enroll in July: Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and the Executive Office of the President.

These agencies as well as military personnel use the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which has complicated payroll systems. Agriculture Department extension offices have payroll systems handled by states, which have not yet made Roth investing available. About 4,000 TSP participants had elected the Roth option by early June, according to the Post.

“We have millions of people stationed everywhere around the world. When it comes to pay, you better get it right the first time,” DFAS spokesman Steve Burghardt previously told Government Executive. “We tread carefully in order to make sure that what we do works.”

Payroll systems for military members tend to be particularly complicated because each branch has a different structure and active-duty service members frequently switch posts. Members of the military are among federal employees who would especially benefit from enrolling in the Roth option; a young service member, for example, might receive an annual allowance of $20,000 to $25,000. A Roth plan would tax according to earnings in the current year, rather than on a presumably higher retirement-age income.

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