Union, OPM reach settlement in 17-year-old back pay case

The federal government and National Treasury Employees Union have tentatively settled a 17-year-old back pay case that affects 188,000 special rate employees. Attorneys for NTEU and the Office of Personnel Management met Monday morning to tell U.S. District Court Judge John Garrett Penn that they had reached an agreement. But the two parties asked for an extension to put the agreement in writing before presenting it to the court. The settlement would determine how to reimburse nearly 200,000 special rate employees who were denied pay increases from 1982 to 1988. Special rate employees are paid at higher levels because they work in occupations that are difficult to fill because of job duties or locale. An OPM regulation exempted special rate employees from annual pay adjustments to the General Schedule, causing special rate employees to receive minimal or no salary increases from 1982 to 1988. The district court ruled the regulation illegal in 1987. NTEU challenged the OPM regulation in a 1983 class action lawsuit. From 1987 to 1998, NTEU and OPM disputed what standard to use in awarding back pay to affected employees. In 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the federal circuit ruled that employees should be compensated as though OPM's 1982 regulation never existed. The details of a settlement have been in negotiation since then. "After today's significant and positive development, I look forward to a written agreement and to full implementation," NTEU President Colleen Kelly said. "This battle has been in the federal courts for a long time, and we intend to keep it before the court until affected federal workers and retirees get their money." Lawyers for NTEU and OPM will meet before Judge Penn at 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 12 to present the written agreement.
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