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Compensation for Cyber-Breach Victims, Parking Perks for 'Special' Feds and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

It’s never a good thing to have your private information stolen by miscreants potentially looking to exploit the data.

But for employees of the U.S. Postal Service, a widespread breach in fall 2014 came with a small perk: USPS management agreed to pay for one year of free credit monitoring for its workforce. Postal unions, however, said the gesture was not enough to rectify the situation.

The National Rural Letter Carriers Association -- along with other postal labor groups -- filed charges against the Postal Service, claiming the agency refused to follow collective bargaining procedures in response to the cyber attack. Then Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe sat on the information for weeks after the breach before alerting the union or its members, NRLCA said, and did not consult the group before determining the appropriate response.

The National Labor Relations Board issued a preliminary ruling on Wednesday, finding the Postal Service violated labor laws by offering the free credit reports without consulting the appropriate unions. Because the monitoring related to “the wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment,” it became a “mandatory subject” for collective bargaining.

As a remedy, the NLRB general counsel demanded USPS post notices of its violations in all post offices with rural letter carriers and that a manager read the offenses to staff. The Postal Service must also bargain with NRLCA for at least 15 hours per week until an agreement or legal impasse is reached.

NRLCA President Jeanette Dwyer called the NLRB ruling a “major development” to gather more information on the impact of the breach last year and to “protect employee data in the future.”

Still, the case -- along with the complaints filed by the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers -- will have to be ruled on by an administrative law judge. For its part, the Postal Service maintains it did nothing unlawful.

“Relying on advice from both internal and external experts, the Postal Service could not have provided its employees or the unions with earlier notice without compromising the investigation and remediation of the cyber breach,” said USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer.

Dwyer said her union still plans to seek additional action from the Postal Service to “remedy the situation.”

While postal employees are looking to right a wrong, another group of federal workers is trying to prevent one from occurring in the first place. The community of Bethesda, Md., which is home to the main campus of the National Institutes of Health, would like NIH employees to do their part to reduce traffic.

The National Capital Planning Commission has said NIH should only maintain one parking spot for every three employees as a means to promote public transportation. Management at NIH, however, planned a space for every 2.4 workers.

And if you ask NIH, they deserve the extra 2,000-plus spots.

Why? Because they’re “special,” that’s why.

As reported by Bethesda Now, NIH’s Division of Facilities Planning Director Ricardo Herring told the commission at a recent meeting NIH employees receive free parking, and any effort to charge them would gravely upset the agency’s workforce.

“With all due respect what makes NIH employees immune to the vagaries of federal employment that the rest of us experience?” asked commission member Mina Wright, noting she recently had to start paying for parking at her General Services Administration day job.

After a bit of a back and forth, Herring said: “But I think you need to understand the culture. We’re talking about a bunch of high-ranking scientists. This is not your regular people.”

NCPC was not convinced. With support from Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and other local public officials, commission members rejected the NIH’s plan. The agency can still move forward with it, Bethesda Now reported, but it could lead to the commission blocking NIH’s future construction plans.

As NIH workers fight for their parking benefits, federal employees across government will have an eye on how their benefits may be targeted in upcoming budget negotiations. The House and Senate each passed their own Republican-backed budgets before taking a two week recess. When Congress comes back into session next week, the two chambers will look to agree to a conference committee version and strike a compromise budget blueprint.

Both documents include major cuts to agencies and compensation for federal employees and retirees, so feds will want to track what provisions end up in the final agreement. Federal employee benefits are seeping into the 2016 presidential conversation as well. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. -- who threw his hat into the ring on Tuesday -- has suggested shifting Medicare onto the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Adding the riskier pool would increase feds’ premiums by $400 per year on average, Paul estimated. He said it’s justified, though, because feds make more money and have better job security than their private-sector counterparts.

Stay tuned to see if other 2016 candidates take shots at the federal workforce…

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