Unions Warn of Low Morale, Retirement Wave Amid Continued Budget Uncertainty

By Eric Katz

October 17, 2013

This story has been updated. 

Federal employees returning to work after the 16-day government shutdown are dealing with low morale, increased workloads and uncertainty about future funding, the leader of a federal employee union said Thursday.

These factors will motivate eligible employees to retire, Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said on a conference call. For those who remain, NTEU has set a series of four priorities to mitigate the negative impact of the shutdown.

NTEU emphasized that as feds made their way back into their offices Thursday, they were forced to deal with the backlog of work that piled up during the shutdown while also keeping an eye on the next deadline.

“Federal employees are not going to forget what happened in the last 16 days,” Kelley said. “They are concerned about what the future will hold.”

On a separate call Thursday, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox also said employees returned to work with apprehension about the future.

“They are not breaking out the party hats,” Cox said. 

First among NTEU’s priorities, the union hopes to ensure the timely delivery of retroactive compensation for federal employees whose paychecks were withheld during the shutdown. Most employees -- including those who were working but not getting paid on time and those who were furloughed -- will receive the back pay in their next paychecks on Oct. 25. Kelley said she was fighting to bump up that schedule.

Cox also called for the immediate issuance of back pay, and said the Social Security Administration has already agreed to run a separate payroll delivery early next week. 

The unions will also monitor re-immersion in the workplace to ensure agencies do not put undue pressure on their employees. NTEU plans to keep up the pressure on Congress to fund government for the rest of the fiscal year, as the current continuing resolution agreed to late Wednesday night only keeps government operating through Jan. 15.

Absent a broader budget deal “this could all happen again,” Kelley said. She added Congress should eliminate sequestration cuts and appropriate sufficient funds to allow agencies to accomplish their missions.

As lawmakers strive to reach such a deal, federal employees should not again fall victim to efforts to reduce federal spending.

“Federal employees have suffered way too much already,” Kelley said.

This suffering has not been without consequence. Employees who are eligible to retire will walk away because they “don’t want to go through this again in January,” Kelley said. The empty seats will then go unfilled, as federal agencies are using attrition to cut their workforces, she added.

Also on the unions’ radar is President Obama’s plan to raise federal employees’ pay by 1 percent in 2014, which the shutdown deal allows to go into effect. While Congress can still block the measure, AFGE said staffers on the House Appropriations Committee do not expect a challenge. 

By Eric Katz

October 17, 2013