Job insecurity is big worry

Newswatch...on federal workers

October 17, 1990|By Mick Roodand Nancy Walser | Mick Roodand Nancy Walser,States News Service

The recurrent threat of furloughs for federal employees may be eroding the very thing that federal managers believe is most instrumental in keeping workers in the ranks -- confidence in job security.

The General Accounting Office found in a survey of 271 federapersonnel managers in agencies with high "quit rates" that nearly 80 percent felt job security was a reason for employees to stay. More than 80 percent believed applicants thought job security was the best reason to accept a federal job.

High quit rate was defined by the GAO as when employeeleave a federal occupation at a rate 50 percent higher than the government-wide average. Positions with high quit rates (at least 9.3 percent compared with the average 6.2 percent) included those of nurses, general attorneys, clerk typists and environmental engineers.

The auditors interviewed personnel managers at agencies in thhigh-cost areas of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Diego and San Francisco. Also questioned were managers from medium-cost areas, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta, and managers in low-cost areas, including Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis and San Antonio.

Agency officials told the GAO that federal employees believtheir jobs are more stable than those of most private sector workers. They also cited government protections from summary firing as an advantage over much of the business world.

The GAO mentioned that federal managers at Fort Meade saitheir Army civilian employees feel their jobs are secure since they have not had a reduction in force since 1973.

RIFs haven't been mentioned yet in connection with thautomatic spending cuts that will again go into effect after midnight Friday if Congress and the president can't agree on a budget. But it can't help federal employees' job-security feelings to know they could be laid off for up to two days a week for the rest of the year if the fiscal stalemate continues.

Help at home:

The House this week passed a bill to increase home-care payments to permanently injured federal employees, thanks in no small part to Joe Keane, a quadriplegic who lives in Somerville, Mass.

In 1962 at the age of 20, Keane set out to become an engineewith the Merchant Marines. But, in a fateful dive into a pool on a Massachusetts Maritime Academy training exercise, he broke a vertebra and was left paralyzed from the neck down.

After his accident, he first lived in hospitals or with family. Thennine years ago, Keane struck out on his own, moving to the first floor of a two-family house in Somerville.

Soon, he realized his new-found independence was threateneby a long overlooked provision in the Federal Employees Compensation Act dating to 1974, which placed a $500 cap on assistance for help in getting dressed, bathed and fed.

Keane says he needs a personal attendant six hours a day. Butin 1990s dollars, the federal aid barely pays for hiring help two hours daily.

"I'd explain my situation [to the attendants] and I asked them tdo things as quickly as possible," said Keane, who also receives a stipend for living expenses from the government.

"I used to wake up in the middle of the night wondering, 'Hoam I going to continue to pay attendants?' I was losing sleep and I worried all the time," he remembered.

Then, in February 1989, he wrote his congressman, Joseph PKennedy 2nd, D-Mass. He kept going -- typing one key at a time with the aid of a splint -- writing to other congressmen, unions and editors, alerting them to the outdated assistance cap.

On Monday, the House voted unanimously to triple thhome-care expense cap for Keane and 224 other permanently injured federal workers who qualify for the benefit nationwide. Senate passage is expected this year as well.

"It's one little tiny obscure reference in the law that nobodpicked up on. We weren't even aware that it didn't keep up with inflation," said Joseph Sella, legislative director for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, one of several unions backing the bill.

"These people were injured on their job as federal workers, anthey deserve to be able to keep up their lifestyle," he said.

To minimize White House objections to the $2 million annuaprice tag, a provision to hitch attendant expense benefits to the Consumer Price Index was dropped from the bill.

For Kennedy, who took up the cause for his constituent, the measure will not only bring relief to people who need it most, but it also illustrates what a larger piece of legislation passed by Congress earlier this year -- the Americans With Disabilities Act -- is all about.

"I think the most important lesson to be learned by this wholexperience is that an individual like Joe Keane can really make a difference. He has done, in fact, what the disabled act has pushed for by pushing down the barriers," said Kennedy.

Although Keane said he's disappointed that the cost-of-livinprovision was stripped out, he said the increase will "just about" cover his expenses and, most importantly, allow him to live on his own.

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