Employee Groups Pan Senate Pay Freeze Plan, and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

Unions and other federal employee groups decried the decision by Senate Republicans to propose a pay freeze for civilian employees in 2021, calling the plan “cruel” in light of the coronavirus pandemic and increasing health insurance premiums.

On Tuesday, Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled their plan to fund federal agencies through fiscal 2021 and avoid a government shutdown, including keeping civilian federal worker compensation at 2020 levels. In comparison, President Trump’s budget proposal called for a 1% across-the-board increase in basic pay for civilian feds next year and no increase to locality pay.

When the House passed its appropriations bills over the summer it did not include language on federal employee pay, effectively adopting Trump’s pay plan. Meanwhile, the House-passed 2021 National Defense Authorization Act includes a 3% pay raise for military service members.

American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley called the Senate’s proposal “insulting” to federal employees who have worked tirelessly for months to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Trying to outdo President Trump in disrespecting federal employees by eliminating even the paltry raise he put forth is completely unwarranted and will only worsen the government’s ability to function effectively,” Kelley said. “The wage freeze proposal is a cruel slap in the face to those who have risked their lives to maintain government services for all Americans during the worst health crisis in our lifetimes . . . There is no justification for denying our civil servants a decent pay increase next year.”

Craig Carter, national president of the Federal Managers Association, demanded lawmakers provide federal workers with a living wage “that keeps up with inflation.”

“As if the Senate’s first real effort to move on full-year appropriations coming 51 days into the fiscal year wasn’t bad enough, it is a double whammy that the proposal includes an across-the-board pay freeze for the federal workforce,” he said. “FMA strongly supports the 3.0% raise for the uniformed military, as included in the National Defense Authorization Act, and continues to argue federal employees deserve the traditional long-established pay parity with military service members. Short of that, the bare minimum Congress should do is the 1% pay raise as recommended in President Trump’s budget request and endorsed by the House.”

The Office of Personnel Management officially kicked off open season for the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program on Monday, the annual period when federal workers can choose to change their health insurance plans for 2021.

Last month, OPM announced that federal employees would pay an average of 4.9% more toward insurance premiums next year, although insurance carriers continue to increase offerings like telehealth and will cover all costs associated with administration of a COVID-19 vaccine and testing.

Officials encouraged federal workers to go to OPM’s website to learn more about the plans that will be available next year and to use the agency’s plan comparison tool to weigh which option is best for them.

Open season will run until Dec. 14.