Rep. Don Norcross, D-N.J., introduced both provisions.

Rep. Don Norcross, D-N.J., introduced both provisions. House Television via AP

Provisions Easing Firefighter Shift Trades and Equalizing Locality Pay Make It Into Major Defense Bill

The odds of two key priorities of federal employee unions becoming law shot up as they were attached to the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

Federal employee unions celebrated this week after news that a House panel had added bills governing firefighter shift trading and blue collar locality pay areas to the annual defense policy bill.

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday advanced the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, after a 16 hour hearing covering hundreds of amendments. The bill already included provisions repealing the Defense Department’s two-year probationary period for new hires, blocking the Pentagon from hiring temporary workers to fulfill enduring functions, and restoring the reduction in force system that relies primarily on employees’ tenure and veterans preference.

During the marathon committee meeting, lawmakers approved adding a provision, introduced by Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., that would ensure that locality pay for General Schedule and blue-collar Federal Wage System employees is calculated using the same map of locality pay areas.

Federal employee groups and some lawmakers have long called for parity between locality pay for General Schedule and Federal Wage System employees. Although the locality pay area map for General Schedule jobs is updated on a nearly annual basis, groups have said that the Federal Wage System map is heavily outdated and remains nearly unchanged from a 1950s map of military installations.

Legislation attempting to align the two pay schedules’ locality pay maps has been introduced in each of the last three sessions of Congress. The bill’s addition to the must-pass Defense authorization measure greatly increases its chances of becoming law.

Lawmakers also approved an amendment, introduced by Norcross, that would enable most federal firefighters to trade shifts without triggering complex rules governing overtime or leading to lower paychecks. The provision is based on the Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers earlier this year.

Federal firefighters typically work nontraditional schedules compared to other employees, working 24-hour shifts and 72-hour work weeks followed by longer periods of time off. Currently, if two firefighters want to trade shifts across multiple biweekly pay periods, they would see their paychecks decrease for the shift they gave away, and they would become eligible for overtime for the shift they added to their schedule. As a result, many agencies forbid shift trading altogether, and require firefighters to take annual leave if a personal obligation conflicts with their work schedule.

The provision added to the Defense Authorization Act ensures that firefighters who trade shifts across multiple pay periods would not see their regular pay decrease or trigger overtime pay requirements. The Biden administration has already publicly expressed support for the original bill, citing it as a necessary improvement to firefighter compensation alongside ensuring all federal firefighters make at least $15 per hour.

In a statement, American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley applauded these provisions’ inclusion in the House version of the defense policy bill.

“These measures will directly improve workers’ pay and job security and signify the critical role of civilian employees in serving our troops and maintaining our national defense,” he said.

The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration by the full chamber, after which the bill will go to conference committee. But it is unclear whether the Senate, which passed its own version of the legislation in July, will sign on to the House’s workforce provisions.

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