By John Brueske /

Feds' Chances For a Bigger 2021 Pay Raise Wane, and a Renewed Push for Coronavirus Hazard Pay

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The odds of federal employees receiving a sizable pay raise in 2021 decreased this week, as a major spending package emerged from the House Rules Committee without language overriding President Trump’s alternative pay plan.

In February, Trump proposed a 1% across the board pay increase for civilian federal workers, while keeping locality pay at 2020 levels. The plan marks a significant reduction from the average 3.1% pay raise—a 2.6% across the board increase along with a 0.5% increase in locality pay—authorized for 2020.

In order to override the president’s pay plan, Congress must pass its own pay raise provision, typically through the annual appropriations process. But thus far, House appropriators have failed to include such a provision, effectively endorsing Trump’s proposal. Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee advanced the fiscal 2021 Financial Services and General Government spending bill, which traditionally includes federal employee compensation provisions, without any mention of a pay raise.

And despite the advocacy of a bipartisan group of lawmakers to institute military-civilian pay parity, it now appears unlikely that federal workers will see a raise of more than 1%. The House version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, by contrast, would provide military service members with a 3% pay increase next year.

The House Rules Committee this week readied a package of six appropriations bills, but a pay raise provision was missing among the list of amendments deemed eligible for introduction and debate on the House floor, all but assuring the House will approve the bill later this week without overriding Trump’s 1% raise proposal.

The House is expected to vote on the measure later this week.

Labor representatives are still pushing for some federal employees to receive extra pay in another form, though. The nation’s largest federal employee union last week redoubled its efforts to ensure that frontline employees who are unable to work remotely receive hazard pay for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The American Federation of Government Employees sued the federal government in March in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, arguing that workers at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the Agriculture Department and the Veterans Affairs Department are entitled to a 25% pay increase because employees there have been required to work with or in close proximity to “virulent biologicals” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the union filed an amended complaint adding plaintiffs from several additional agencies, including multiple Defense Department components, the Labor Department, the Social Security Administration, the Federal Grain Inspection Service, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Transportation Security Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The lawsuit also seeks to provide Wage Grade employees with an 8% pay increase for “exposure to micro-organisms.”

“Each day front-line federal employees willingly risk their health and their families’ health to provide critical services to the American people,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley, in a statement. “Since our original complaint was filed in March, tens of thousands of federal employees have contracted COVID-19 and many more are suffering because they are being forced to go to work in unsafe environments. It is our hope that the government does right by these employees and pays them the hazardous duty pay they’ve earned.”