Union calls for 3.9 percent federal pay increase in 2009

The leader of a federal labor union on Tuesday outlined a list of major legislative priorities for 2008, including the approval of a 3.9 percent pay increase for government employees in 2009.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called on lawmakers to support six major federal employee issues this year, including the pay increase. She addressed an audience of more than 300 NTEU members at the start of a three-day legislative conference in Washington.

Kelley said the union's top priority was securing a higher pay raise for federal workers next year. President Bush proposed a 2.9 percent increase in his fiscal 2009 budget request, but Kelley called the proposal "inappropriate and unacceptable," noting especially its lack of parity with military service members. The president proposed a 3.4 percent raise for the military in 2009.

In the push for fair and adequate pay, Kelley added, NTEU also will continue to oppose alternative pay systems that lack fairness, credibility and transparency. Specifically, Kelley said, NTEU would lobby for a full repeal of the remaining components of the Homeland Security Department's new personnel system. Last month, DHS backed away from its proposed labor relations system, but still plans to implement performance management and pay-for-performance measures at the agency.

Kelley also said NTEU will focus on other issues critical to Homeland Security employees, including upholding critical law enforcement officer benefits passed into law earlier this year for Customs and Border Patrol agents. Bush proposed repealing the benefit for CBP officers in his fiscal 2009 budget request. NTEU will continue pressing for "much-needed" collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Administration employees, Kelley said.

In addition, NTEU is seeking an increase in the government's share of health insurance premiums as well as a federal contribution to dental and vision plans. The union also is backing the elimination of pension offsets that reduce Social Security benefits some federal retirees are entitled to receive from their spouses.

Other priorities involve fighting White House efforts to repeal restrictions on federal contracting signed into law last year, and supporting passage of legislation that would reinstate and expand labor-management partnerships at federal agencies.

"As important as each of these issues is in its own right, taken together they form just the starting point for an aggressive yearlong legislative effort that includes NTEU chapters and members throughout the country," Kelley said. "Such involvement is critical, given that so much of what impacts federal workers occurs in and through the legislative process."

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., told NTEU members that the federal government will face great challenges during the next four years, especially as 36 percent of the workforce becomes eligible to retire. He called on federal employees and government leaders to focus on two issues -- protecting the benefits of those retiring from federal service and ensuring enough new employees enter the government workforce and receive proper training.

"All of these years of anti-government rhetoric have fueled a sort of disdain among people for the quality of work we're doing," Webb said. "We're going to turn that around."

NTEU did not endorse a presidential candidate at the conference. Kelley said the decision "is not obvious," noting that the two Democratic contenders, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, both have 100 percent voting records on federal employee issues.

"This election is different than any other," she said. "We've endorsed in the past before there was a single candidate, but those races were different. Our leaders are probably no different than the American people in who they support."

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